Our top tips for Rich Learning

  • 3 minute read
  • 28 October 2021

The education industry is no stranger to new buzzwords and trends. They’re always popping up. One you may have heard recently is ‘Rich Learning’ or ‘enrichment tasks’.

Rich Learning has roots in situational and social learning. The concept first came to light in 1987 in Afzal Ahmed’s work that explored the importance of rich mathematical tasks in education. Further research, including this Queensland report on productive pedagogies and Jo Boaler’s Railside study, solidified Rich Learning as a evidence-based teaching practice.  

Today, Rich Learning is gaining momentum in schools across the country, popular for its playful approach that aims to spark curiosity and get students engaged in maths.

What is Rich Learning?

Rich Learning involves the whole class coming together for thought-provoking, teacher-led group activities where mathematical concepts are explored using open-ended questions with multiple entry and exit points.

Maths educator and founder of Math for Love, Dan Finkel, is a passionate advocate of Rich Learning. He describes it as “A process of developing robust and connected networks of knowledge, skills and problem solving abilities.” 

“This happens when students become curious about something, struggle productively to understand it and own that experience.” says Dan.

This type of learning focuses on developing critical thinking and reasoning skills and encourages students to think like mathematicians with no assessment involved. 

Dan has a great analogy for Rich Learning, see it here:

Why should you add Rich Learning to your teacher toolkit?

We all know how hard it can be to engage every student in maths. Maths anxiety is real and it can be detrimental to student outcomes. Evidence in education, cognitive psychology and neuroscience research shows that anxiety can lead to a drop in maths performance. 

This paper from ACER describes other long-term effects of maths anxiety, including the development of a negative attitude towards the subject as well as avoidance of subjects, courses and careers that involve maths. 

But those of us who love maths know that joy that can come from it. And we really want our students to experience it.

By introducing irresistible maths challenges or mysteries, students can become motivated to jump in and start problem solving. In many cases, Rich tasks don’t necessarily feel like maths tasks. They’re real world problems that students can tackle in a number of different ways. 

For many students, Rich lessons provide their first fun and enjoyable experience in maths. They engage with the challenge and want to solve it.  And this is exactly where real learning happens. 

This what makes Rich Learning different to traditional maths lessons, it is driven by student curiosity. 

Watch this video to see Dan Finkel explain what makes Rich Learning different and important.

Tips for running Rich tasks

So you understand why Rich Learning is important, what’s next? The amazing Maths Pathway teacher community has developed the following list of pro tips, designed to help you create effective and manageable Rich Lessons:

  • There are heaps of Rich Learning tasks available online — this can be overwhelming, and not all of them are good. So start with ones that are available in the Maths Pathway Media Library, under the Rich Learning series section.
  • When planning, actually do the task yourself. You will get a sense of how students will approach the task for the first time, and what prompts they might need as they tackle it.
  • Work with a colleague to plan the same task and then reflect on it after you’ve run it. 
  • Don’t try and plan every last detail for a Rich Learning task. The beauty of these tasks is that they can be taken in many different directions, and so students are likely to surprise you in what they find or the methods they use. You may still find it useful to pre-plan what extra materials could be needed (e.g. rulers, mini whiteboards, multilink cubes, etc.)
  • Stand back during the lesson. During a Rich Learning task, students should work independently (or interdependently in groups) through the problem. Your role is to guide them and ask prompting, thought-provoking questions. This doesn’t mean that no expectations are set. It is still very appropriate to be clear about behaviour expectations during the lesson.
  • Run the task multiple times, either with different classes or with the same class over the course of the year. This will help you to become more familiar and comfortable with the class, and get a clearer sense of what questions to pose to students and when.
  • Watch the Maths Pathway Rich Learning series in the Media Library to learn the best ways to launch a task, spark curiosity and encourage productive struggle and ownership
  • If the first time did not go as smooth as you hoped for, keep at it, practice makes perfect and you will be amazed how quickly you feel at home facilitating these. Also, the enjoyment in students’ faces will be a great driver!

Ready to start running Rich tasks in your classroom?

Check out our Rich Learning series below to get started.

Author: Maths Pathway

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