Problem-Based Tasks in Math

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Providing students with opportunities to grapple with math has led to amazing things happening in my class. Students are totally excited and are driven to figure out not just how to solve a problem but why it works.

– Jessica Proffitt, Fifth-Grade Teacher at Two Rivers
Watch Two Rivers’s Teachers and Students
at Work on Problem-Based Tasks in Math
Problem-Based Tasks Require Students
to Apply Their Knowledge in New Contexts

Problem-based tasks are math lessons built around a single, compelling problem. The problems are truly “problematic” for students — that is, they do not offer an immediate solution.

The problems provide an opportunity for students to build conceptual understanding. Problem-based tasks require students to apply their current understanding and skills to new contexts that highlight core math concepts. For example, when students solve a problem that could be solved with multiplication before they have formally been taught what multiplication is and how it works, they build an understanding that multiplication is repeated addition.

Well-designed problem-based tasks provide multiple entry points for students to engage in problem solving, ensuring that all students have access to the same concepts. When students solve the problems in different ways—including drawing pictures, acting out the problem, writing algorithms, and using manipulatives—they make connections between the variety of models that all accurately illustrate the underlying mathematics.

Problem-Based Tasks in Math Resources
Overview of Math at Two Rivers
Example Lesson Plan
(Grade K)
Example Lesson Plan
(Grade 4 and 5)
Example Lesson Plan
(Grade 6-8)
Lesson Plan Template
How You Design
Problem-Based Tasks