Recently, Michael Pershan unearthed a Shell Centre gem straight from the 80’s (literally). This collection of materials is fantastic, and hopefully demonstrates to both students and teachers that engaging in rich tasks and high-level thinking is timeless.

I decided to give the function unit a shot in my Algebra 2 class today. Some background on this group of students: there are 38 juniors and seniors, last hour of the day, in a class geared toward lower-level students. So far though, the only thing that’s been “lower” in this class is the number of empty desks I have. I handed out this task, gave minimal directions and let them go for a few minutes on their own:

It was so interesting to watch the different ways each of them started. Some began with 7, since that was the first you saw when reading the graph from left to right. Others insisted to work from 1 to 7, identifying the corresponding people along the way. A few worked the other way around, from the people to the graph.

I walked around to make sure each student was able to get started and that those who thought they had determined a solution also supported their claims. Then, I wrote the numbers 1 – 7 on the dry-erase board, stepped back, and let these kids amaze me.

One student volunteered an answer, and then handed the marker off to another. I intervened only briefly to make sure that every student had an opportunity to contribute if he or she wanted. Once 7 names were completed, I knew a couple of them were out of place. I sat and said nothing, and this entire class showed me what they are capable of. Here was a class full of students labeled mathematical underachievers completely nailing SMP #3. Their arguments were viable, their critiques constructive, their discussion productive. It bothered a few of them that I wouldn’t let them know if/when they were correct. But most of them are starting to understand that my main focus here is not the correct answer, but the incredibly rich and interesting process they used on their journey to finding it. They came up with multiple ways to support their answers and noticed tiny details about the people that supported their findings. For example, did you notice that Alice is wearing heels? According to my students, that is perhaps why she appears slightly taller than Errol.

I had a heart-to-heart with this group when we were done about how proud I was at how they conducted themselves throughout this task. I’m really thoroughly looking forward to a fantastic trimester with this special group of kids. Their work on this task gives both of us the confidence that they can tackle something more difficult next time, and they are capable of mastering high-level mathematics this trimester.