Lesson Study: Choosing a Mathematical Goal and Task

Getting Better Together

This entry is the first post in the series Getting Better Together: A Lesson Study

Don’t you just love those days when a math lesson goes really well? A lesson where, at any given moment, you could look around and see students engaging in a task, persevering through problems, talking with one another about the mathematics, making connections, and in the end, be able to demonstrate understanding of the mathematical goal for the day? While it’s an amazing experience we probably wish we could have every day, there’s also much to be learned when a lesson doesn’t go quite as well.

There are so many factors that contribute to a successful or not-so-successful lesson. The upside for me as a departmentalized teacher was always having the opportunity to fix it. I taught two different math classes each day, so if a lesson didn’t go as I expected the first time, I had my lunch break to find ways to fix it for the second class. Whether it was changing the launch, adjusting my questions, or scrapping the whole activity and going with something completely different, I was thankful for that opportunity. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most elementary school teachers who teach every content area every day. They have one chance to do that exact lesson with their class, and if it doesn’t feel successful, there’s no time to adjust it and try again. This can be a struggle.

To help teachers think more deeply about this struggle, I prioritized the work we did in our Learning Labs last year around planning, teaching, and reflecting collaboratively. Teachers were able to actually see a lesson in action in someone else’s classroom and adapt it before they taught it the following day. Since our Learning Labs have taken more of an RTI focus this year, I was excited to jump back into the collaborative lesson planning process with the third grade team.

We started our planning process by discussing where they were in their multiplication unit and what they were seeing and hearing from their students. Based on this information, we chose to focus our task choice on this Common Core State Standard:

CCSS.OA.A.3: Use multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.

To choose an appropriate task, we discussed the types of problems students were seeing. While our curriculum does a lot of amazing work with groups of things and arrays, we were curious to see how students would reason about multiplication outside of the typical work they’d been doing. We found this Illustrative Mathematics task that we believed would give students opportunities to talk about multiplication in different ways.

We took some individual quiet time to work through each of the problems individually and then talked through how we anticipated students would respond to each of the four questions.

problem solving task

In order to take you on our planning journey with us, I’m going to end this post right here and give you some individual think time to work out these four questions in the comments section below. I’d love to hear how you would plan this lesson for your class. What sequence would you use? What questions would you ask? What warm-up do you think would be great to use before this? What formative assessment prompt would you ask at the end to see where the students are in their thinking?

In the next post in this series, I’ll share questions we had around the math in the lesson and our planning decisions.

Kristin Gray is a National Board Certified fifth grade math teacher at Richard A. Shields Elementary School in the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Delaware and a Teaching Channel Laureate. During her 19 years in education, she has taught 5th–8th grade math, and spent two years as a K-5 Math Specialist. She feels fortunate to be involved with Illustrative Mathematics and Teaching Channel on projects developing math tasks, facilitating professional development, and blogging about these experiences. She is always excited to share her love of teaching at conferences such as NCTM, NCSM, ISTE, as well as on her blog. Follow Kristen on Twitter: @MathMinds.

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