On Friday I attended a pro-d presentation in which Peter Liljedahl shared his numeracy tasks. Peter’s tasks get students comfortable with ambiguity, get them writing about math, and get them to stop mimicking the teacher.
Early in the session, I wondered how these tasks could address pre-calculus learning outcomes. Later, Peter answered this for me when the conversation turned to finding time. “Why are we afraid to give up what isn’t working?” he asked.
“Who was your math teacher last year?”
“Uh… you were, Mr. Hunter.”
Despite learning (covering?) things like factoring trinomials or writing equations of lines in Math 10, sometimes my Math 11 students would act like they were seeing these things for the first time. So, why am I holding on to this? Why can’t I make time for numeracy tasks?
Peter works with teachers to design numeracy tasks that require the mathematics that students already have in place. This rules out grade level learning outcomes. He joked about trying to steer students towards a particular method of solving a problem – “Students are very good at smelling a word problem.”
While these tasks may not address grade level learning outcomes, they can be used to address the main goals of mathematics education described in our curriculum. Communication, perseverance, risk taking, motivation, engagement, and problem solving – all of these were listed by teachers as necessary to be able to do these tasks and all of these help define numeracy.
As an added bonus, helping students develop these skills will make teaching and learning grade level outcomes that much easier.
I look forward to trying out Peter’s tasks and developing new tasks with Surrey teachers.