How do I teach concept units?

Projects appeal to educators because great ones get students to do the following:

  • Read critically
  • Write for explanation
  • Be steeped in inquiry and critical thinking
  • Make strategic choices
  • Take ownership of their learning
  • Viewing from multiple entry points
  • Conversing about the discipline using academic language

Good math tasks do all of these things as well. In fact, the process involved in a math task is much like in a project; the primary difference is size and scope (math tasks may take 1-2 class periods). Generally speaking, a flow of a math task goes like this:

  1. Problem-posing: Students are launched into the problem scenario. A prescription for a solution is NOT included.
  2. Students working and teachers supporting: After some individual think time, students work in pairs or groups to solve the problem. The teacher supports, as needed with hints, workshops, helpful resources, etc.
  3. Whole-class sense-making: Students present their solutions in some form. The teacher asks guiding questions, prompts generalizations and promotes connections and synthesis.

Since a concept units is a collection of carefully sequenced math tasks, the process described above repeats many times in a concept unit, each time extending students’ understanding in new ways.


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