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Mathematical Task Design

Tuesday 17 June 2014


The people at the UK based NCETM who organise the Tuesday night #mathscpdchat on twitter asked for volunteers to steer the chat during the month of June. I have volunteerd for Tuesday 17th June 2014 and am steering the chat between 19.00 and 20.00 UK summer time and hope to see lots of people there. I must confess I am not a regular contributor to this chat primarily because the timing is awkward for me and my family. Anyway, I am looking forward to steering the chat on the topic of 'Good Mathematical task design' and thought I would write a short blog post to set the tone for the chat. So here goes...

Clearly there are so many important issues in teaching of which mathematics teaching is a considerbale subset. They are all interesting and they are all important. That said, I find that an increasing amount of my time moves towards the development of really good mathematical tasks. This is happening for a couple of reasons.

  1. It is unquestionably the part of my job that I enjoy the most and find the most rewarding all round
  2. On the occasions (note the missing frequency) when I am successful with developing a good task I find that many of the other afore mentioned teaching issues, have been addressed to a significant extent.

Subconciously, as I get older, I think I begin to play more on my strengths and look for more efficient paths. Good mathematical task design is so often the more efficient path. Ofcourse we are all different and thank goodness for that, so I am less making an argument and more telling a personal story. That said, I worry that with all the emphasis on the other issues, the quality of mathematical tasks may not be high enough up priority lists and I would argue that, in this case, we were collectively missing a trick. I find it an incredible and time consuming challenge to devise good tasks and feel strongly that there should be a heavy emphasis on this both during initial teacher training and continuing professional development. This is very much a part of the 'Teach a man to fish argument'.

So the key questions I want to steer the chat with this evening are....

  • What are the elements of good mathematical tasks?
  • What are the implications for task design? What skills do we need?
  • How do peole approach task design? Does it start with an objective or an inspiration?
  • Can we share some examples and explain why we like them?

You can read more about how I see a good mathematical task here and my take on how they come about here. I recently published a post on my wbesite for teachers of IB Maths Studies about this issue called  'The Problem with Monty Hall'  and of course, the whole idea behind this website that I write with my colleagues is based on rich and useful mathematical tasks.

I'll update this post with anything that comes out of the chat..... It has already been a useful exercise for me.


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