Student-Created 3 Act Tasks

Ashley, an experienced 2nd grade teacher, added the 3 Act Tasks to her repertoire this year. Among Ashley’s many strengths include listening thoughtfully to students and engaging them in the design process. She thinks holistically about students as learners, giving them multiple entry points into tasks and different opportunities to show their learning. The 3 Act Task structure felt like a natural fit to her — and a great entry into problem based learning in mathematics. The students caught onto the routine quickly, and obviously looked forward to these lessons each week.

In fact, Ashley was able to include so many 3 Act Tasks (many from Graham Fletcher/@gfletchy) this year that students started to attend to 3 Acts as a media genre. (Second graders are brilliant, and you will never be able to convince me otherwise.)

Ashley asked her class to describe the important features of a 3 Act Task. She received a barrage of joyful responses.

“The math is accurate!”

“They use materials! Like the whopper jar!”

“…and Pringles!”

“The information is not all at once.”

“It’s revealed!”

“You have to come up with a question.”

We started to record their thinking on the board. Ashley then showed the students two 3 Act Tasks they had seen before, both from Graham Fletcher (@gfletchy): the Whopper Jar (clearly a class favorite) and Bright Idea. Students then made different observations about the videos.

“Sometimes it starts slowly, and then speeds up.”

“It’s easy to see what’s happening.”

“Yeah, it’s zoomed in.”

“Because he puts the stuff into clear containers!” (I hadn’t even noticed that one. In Whopper Jar, Graham puts whoppers into a mason jar, and Bright Idea’s skittles are emptied into a light bulb. Both objects are clear.)

“They don’t reveal all of the information.”

“There’s not much extra sound.”

“They video shows the ending but doesn’t show the answer.”

So students set off to plan out different 3 Act Tasks — of their own creation.

3 act planning.png

In teams of 3 or 4, students collaboratively:

  • Generated ideas, keeping in mind the criteria from the student created list of what makes for a good 3 Act Task
  • Mapped out a storyboard
  • Filmed videos and took photos for Acts 1, 2, and 3

I cannot share any videos that feature student faces here, but I did want to share some of the student work. I’m grateful that I was able to observe part of this process — classroom teacher Ashley is the one is conceived of the project and taught all of the lessons — as it was so much fun to watch these student-created 3 Act Tasks develop! I’m tempted to use some of them with students next year.

The Power Tower

Act 1

  1. What do you wonder?
  2. Estimate how many rods were used in all. How many of each color do you think were used?

Act 2

How many of each color rod did the team use? (link to google doc with table)

Image of rods used (sorted by color)

Act 3

Act 3 SOLUTION image – organized into piles of 5

Popsicle Sticks

Act 1

  1. What do you wonder?
  2. Estimate how many popsicle sticks were used in all. How many of each color do you think were used?

Act 2

popsicle stick act 2 (1).JPG

Act 3

Act 3 SOLUTION Image

Other 3 Act Tasks

Most other videos and images included student faces. Here’s one more so that you can see another sample.


Here is a word doc of the planning template we used. Feel free to make adjustments for the sake of clarity or to suit your context!

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