[a/k/a 3-Act Task: Suitcase Circle]
It’s the muscle that connects my capacity for noticing the world to my capacity for creating mathematical experiences for children. (I should also take some time in 2018 to learn how muscles work.)
By way of illustration, this was my favorite tweet of 2017.
— Ilona Vashchyshyn (@vaslona) September 29, 2017
Right there you have an image created by Brittany Wright, a chef, and shared with the 200,000 people who follow her on Instagram. Loads of people before Ilona had noticed it, but she connected that noticing to her capacity for
That skill —Â taking an interesting thing and turning it into a challenging thing —Â is one of teaching’s “unnatural acts.” Who does that? Not civilians. Teachers do. And I want to get awesome at it.
But Ilona ran a marathon and I want to run some wind sprints. I need quick exercises for strengthening that muscle. So here are my exercises for 2018:
I’m going to pause when I notice mathematical structures in the world. Like flying out of the United terminal in San Antonio at last year’s NCTM where I (and I’m sure a bunch of other math teachers) noticed this “Suitcase Circle.”
Then I’ll capture my question in a picture or a video. Kind of like the one above, except pictures like that one exist in abundance online.
Civilians capture scenes in order to preserve as much information as possible. That’s natural. But I’ll excerpt the scene, removing some information in order to provoke curiosity. Perhaps this photo, which makes me wonder, “How many suitcases are there?”
In order to gauge the curiosity potential of the image, I’ll share the media I captured with my community. Maybe with my question attached, like Ilona did. Maybe without a question so I can see the interesting questions other people wonder. You may find my photos on Twitter. You may find them at my pet website, 101questions.
I want to get to a place where that muscle is so strong that I’m hyper-observant of math in the world around me, and turning those observations into curious mathematical experiences for children is like a reflexive twitch.
(Plus, that muscle will be more fun to strengthen in 2018 than literally any other muscle in my body.)
BTW. Check out the 3-Act Task I created for the Suitcase Circle. It includes the following reveal, which I’m pretty proud of.
BTW. The suitcase circle later turned into Complete the Arch, a Desmos activity, which has some really nice math going on.
[Suitcase Circle photo by Scott Ball]
I would just add that we shouldn’t forget that the classroom is a world within a world for us to notice, and that while many great, unforgettable tasks are based on interesting phenomena that we’ve observed or collected outside of school, on a day-to-day basis, high-impact tasks are probably more likely to be rooted in our observations and interactions with our students (in fact, even the banana tweet and post were sparked by a conversation with a student who was eating what was, to me, an exceptionally green banana). They tend not to be as flashy, but can have just as much impact because they’re tailored to the kids, norms, relationships, and histories in our classrooms.