During my first year of teaching, I constantly thought things like, “I can’t wait until next year so I can try this differently” or “I need to prioritize this more next year.” Honestly, I haven’t followed through on everything, but something that has been very rewarding in my classroom is more regular use of Three-Act Math lessons. These types of lessons allow every single one of my students to engage with the material and leave the classroom feeling like they made a meaningful contribution.
I begin the lesson by showing the students a picture or a short video clip, and simply asking them to write down what they noticed and any questions they have. I make sure to take the time to write down every thought that my students share, because this validation early on in the lesson really gives them the momentum to grapple with the math later on. I love seeing my lower-achieving students, who are normally a bit uninterested during my lessons, shooting their hands into the air to share their thoughts. And even though there is a low entry point for everyone, I always have a handful of students who begin to lead us toward the important mathematical concepts. After considering all of the students’ questions, I present them with the main question we’ll be answering and ask for their answers.
I love this part of the lesson because I really get to see my students start to make sense of the mathematics. It’s also the point where students begin to notice that they don’t have all of the information they need to fully answer our main question. In other words, they start to get those headaches. It’s only after students articulate what information is missing that I fill in those gaps and present the Tylenol. I then allow them to discuss with a partner or two to work toward a solution.
I have found that managing this group work in a Three-Act Math lesson is easier than managing my class in more typical lessons. Because I make sure that I begin with an intriguing stimulus, and take the time early in the lesson to place an importance on the students’ voices, they are very invested and eager to work toward a solution. Again, even my lower students are engaged after experiencing success early on. Three-Act Math lessons are the best way that I have found to foster meaningful student discussion and create an accessible environment for everyone in my classroom.