I vividly recall a time-worthy task from my early days of teaching, the brilliant Maths Task Centre investigation Win at the Fair. My students were so pleased that I had found them a stimulating and meaningful task to engage with that they weren’t about to let a lunchtime bell interfere with the trialling and playing of the fairground probability games that they were developing. However, these engaging tasks often proved hard acts to follow. My students were just as disappointed as I was when some of the inferior follow-up tasks that I subjected them to failed to inspire. My ‘gut feel’ approach to selecting tasks was hit-and-miss. They marked the beginning of my search to try and better understand the characteristics of the tasks that tended to be hits. I have come to learn that there is no such thing as an objectively ‘rich’ task but perhaps there are highly-probable tasks, tasks which give the classroom teacher an excellent chance to stimulate interest, provide challenge and extend the knowledge of all students (Sullivan & Lilburn; 1997, Sullivan et al, 2013; Ferguson, 2012; Clarke et al, 2014).
During my post-graduate study, I continued the search for these elusive tasks. At present, I have recognised ten research-informed attributes that well-constructed mathematical tasks share, though very few possess all ten. The emergence of these attributes enabled me to design a set of criteria to evaluate the engagement and challenge potential of a given task. I used these criteria to create and curate and a repository of tasks which I call Time-worthy Tasks; tasks which have a research-based justification for occupying your students’ time. I hope that this collection further empowers teachers to answer Sullivan’s (2012) call for “well-chosen mathematical tasks” that boost student engagement and learning in mathematics. If you can assist me in locating more of these 'needles in the haystack,' please don't hesitate to get in touch via the contact form.
Anthony, G., & Walshaw, M. (2009). Characteristics of effective teaching of mathematics: A view from the West. Journal of Mathematics Education, 2(2), 147-164.
Hattie, J., Fisher, D., Frey, N., Gojak, L. M., Moore, S. D., & Mellman, W. (2016). Visible learning for mathematics, grades K-12: What works best to optimize student learning. Corwin Press p. 85.
Â Sullivan, P. (2011). Teaching mathematics: Using research-informed strategies. ACER
Sullivan, P., & Lilburn, P. (1997). Open-ended maths activities: Using" good" questions to enhance learning. Oxford University Press.
Sullivan, P., Clarke, D., & Clarke, B. (2013). Teaching with tasks for effective mathematics learning. New York, NY: Springer New York.