Monday, April 28, 2014

Common Core Math Can Be Rigorous AND Fun

It is true, there ARE Common Core activities that are actually fun. In this stressful time of accountability and standardized testing, it is easy for teachers to feel the need to test prep. I know that I have felt this pressure in recent years, especially seeing first hand the impending state test (PARCC or SBAC anyone?). Just standing behind student’s shoulders last year as they piloted gave me shivers. For the past year we have been running around digging through data, looking for teaching strategies, test prep strategies, the latest and greatest best practice, adding professional development to every second of the day…it is enough to make us certifiably mad.
Don’t get me wrong, we SHOULD be doing these things, but we also should look at what we’ve been doing RIGHT for so many years, and make it better.

Enter performance tasks, authentic performance tasks I should add. I’ve been playing around with these for a few years, to try to figure out how make them deeper and more meaningful. A truly deep performance task includes a heavy amount of reading and writing, right alongside the math. They are also open ended, so that there is more than one correct answer. These tasks can be incredibly fun for students, especially if they are framed the right way.

One of my favorites is called Doggy Dilemma. In this task students must read through several full pages of text in order to even understand what to do. In the problem their parents are allowing them to adopt a dog. They choose from a list of dogs to adopt that describes the size of the dogs, how high they jump, and how much they run around. They must build a pen for the dog (thinking about the features of each dog and the area of the pen) by drawing a scaled diagram of the backyard. Once they have the pen figured out, they need to calculate the perimeter so that they can choose an appropriate type of fencing. The fencing is also different heights and comes in different lengths. In the end they must write a letter to their parents explaining all of their choices and the final cost. Doggy Dilemma is free if you’d like to give it a try. (Just click on the photo below!)

Math Performance Task

The latest one we are working on in class right now is called Design a Dream Bedroom. In this performance task they are asked to remodel their bedroom. They map out the dimensions of the room and choose furniture, flooring, paint, textiles, and accessories. They must also calculate a final cost for the remodel, and write to explain their thinking. This performance task is even more exciting because I bring in examples of carpet, tile, wood flooring, and paint samples from the hardware store. They get to actually touch and feel the materials! After I introduced the problem, the students literally RAN to the table to look at the samples. They have been devouring the pages for two 30 minutes class periods, and they still have more to do.


Performance tasks, especially when it is something that they care about, can be very motivating. They require complex math, but they are also FUN. Common Core aligned activities really can be exciting! When students are engaged like this, the learning is deep and meaningful. Best of all, it can help students practice perseverance, which will be huge for upcoming standardized tests.

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Jen is a third grade teacher with 8 years of experience teaching elementary students. Her passion is teaching math with a focus on conceptual knowledge through real world projects and rigorous problem solving. You can find more teaching tips and resources (and hear about how much she has learned from her mistakes) at her blog: Beyond Traditional Math. You can also connect with her on Pinterest, TpT, Twitter, and Facebook.


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