This weeks challenge on the Math(s) Twitter Blog ‘o’ Sphere is to check into one of the collaboration projects set up by Maths educators around the world (mostly in the US but at least one of which comes out of the UK), to explore a bit and reflect on what we find.

I’ve been lurking around the edges of Maths education blogs for a long time, so I remember a lot of these projects starting up. I’ve dropped in but for whatever reason I haven’t contributed much – I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to drop back in on one of them, namely 101questions which is a project of Dan Meyer.

Dan has done a lot of work thinking through 3 Act lessons. When I describe that work to others I talk about trying to get a picture or video that poses one key and interesting question that could be used as the launching point for a lesson or series of lessons. I talk about seeing lessons as stories with a beginning, middle and end, with possible sequels. I talk about using the digital projectors in our rooms to share digitally rich materials. I talk about having something beyond the answer key or my decision being the measure of correctness or success.

101questions is an online community set to pose videos and pictures to see what questions come up – to see if other people intuitively jump to the question you have in mind. The people posting the pictures or videos and the people suggesting questions are mostly Maths teachers but given that level of homogeneity, there is a great diversity in the types of answers that are given. You still get different questions in the classroom but this gives a good starting point to make sure you aren’t completely blindsided.

I have taken some of these and used them in the classroom. We’ve watched the video or examined the picture, come up with our questions, asked what information we might need to begin to solve that question and get stuck in doing some mathematics. It takes work to find an Act 2 (the information) or Act 3 for some of these problems which is where I have greatly appreciated the work of others doing this (I’ve benefited a lot from Dan and Andrew Stadel in particular). The site now has functionality to search for those resources that have lessons associated with them. I’m pretty sure this is new and will make it much more likely for me to use these in my lessons more often.

I find that these problems are very engaging but not often fully mathematically rich. They do present problems that can be solved in a variety of ways but as we are aiming toward one key question most students are working to try find out the same thing. Maybe the sequels is where the juicy richness comes in – we could encourage pattern spotting and generalisations as students develop their own problems in our context.

Do you think 3 Act lessons are mathematically rich? Am I way off base here? Are there ways to make them more rich?