At its core, math is a practical subject. It is derived from real world observations and applied to solve real world problems. For this reason, a critical aspect of a well-rounded math education is ensuring that students connect mathematical concepts to the applications these concepts have in reality. For years, educators have tried to achieve this end with clever word problems that, for example, might ask students to place themselves in the shoes of an engineer or architect, calculating rates or angles. While problems like these are beneficial, they may yet fail to fully engage students. Granted, these problems give students a window to see how the math they are learning is used in the outside world, but in the back of many students minds, they are thinking, “But I don’t want to be an engineer or architect, so why is this important for me?” It follows, then, that teachers must start bridging the life application gap for these students with engaging problems that apply to everyone’s life, whether or not students go into a math related field.
One way to do this is by implementing what former math teacher Dan Meyer (2011) terms the “Three-Act Task.” As Meyer (2011) explains in his blog, real life mathematical problems can be effectively mapped out with a three stage outline: introduction of the problem, supplementation of information and tools, and resolution of the problem followed by set-up for a sequel. What makes the Three-Act Task intriguing, however, is the fact that it is presented via digital media- video clips and photos. In this way, a three-act mathematical task epitomizes the ideal math problem: engaging for all students and applicable to real life.
Now, we walk through an example of a three-act task, starting with Act 1 below.
Continue to the next page to see how this mathematical narrative progresses.