Dan Meyer’s TED Talk is a great introduction to Three Act instructional tasks, though he never mentions them by name. In fact, he was just starting to develop them at the time of this TEDx. During his talk, Mr. Meyer describes why math instruction in the United States needs a makeover, what’s wrong with textbooks, and what we can do about it. If you haven’t seen the video, the inspiration it will give you is well worth the thirteen minutes you’ll spend watching it.
Act 1 is the hook for the students. It’s the perplexing question where you set them up for the mathematics that will follow. You have the students wondering about something they actually want to know and then you ask them to estimate the answer to their question.
Act 2 is the information collecting stage. It’s where the story happens. It’s where all the mathematical action is. The students decide what information would be useful to have in order to answer the question, and then you give them, or lead them to, information they need. They answer the question posed in Act 1.
Act 3 is the resolution of the question. It’s like the punchline to a joke or the ending to a story or movie. This is where the students are given the opportunity to check their mathematical answer against what really happened. A discussion about why their answer can be correct and not precisely match Act 3 can occur. Students get comfortable with the mathematics of real life.
A Sequel is an extension. Some students may finish earlier or want a little more challenge. Just like in the rest of life, not every story has a sequel.
That’s the idea behind Three Act instructional tasks. You can visit a Google Docs spreadsheet of all the Three Acts Dan has created, along with some contributions from others.
Of course it’s always best for us to teach coherently, connecting our instruction with relevant ideas built on what students already know. Sometimes when it comes to teaching differently, it is also important to just begin. I recommend getting started with an accessible Three Act, Popcorn Picker, to get acquainted with the idea of a Three Act instructional task. Watch the video of Act 1, but scroll no further; try it. What’s your guess as to which container will hold more popcorn? What information do you need to be able to choose a container? Don’t view Act 3 yourself until you have written your mathematical story. With your students, you could easily teach this with a hands-on component to Act 3. Instead of watching the video to resolve the perplexity of which direction of taped paper will give you more popcorn, students can try it themselves. And who doesn’t love fresh popcorn during a great video Three Act?!
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