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Three Rich Tasks You Can Run When Teaching Remotely

Updated: Jul 18

Right now, I'm doing something that I've been doing day in, day out for the past two months: sitting in front of my computer screen. I've come to realise that there's a strict limit on how long I can sit here before my eyes and muscles start complaining. So instead, I'm doing more activities where I don't need to focus intently on the one spot.

It's the same - if not, worse - for students. Trying to concentrate on the screen for multiple hours of learning each day is no easy feat. So, rich tasks are a helpful way to mix it up.

Rich tasks are mathematical problems, puzzles or games that promote investigation, different levels of challenge and are accessible to all students. These are tasks that are often hands on and designed to provoke curiosity.

I like to think of rich tasks as maths that keeps on giving.

Even when students aren't in a physical classroom, it's still possible to run rich tasks. Below are three that can be used in a remote learning environment, and include a mix of on-screen and off-screen time. I also love these tasks, so hope you enjoy them too!

Some general ideas for running these tasks:

  1. Begin the rich task online, by introducing it and checking that students know how to get started.

  2. To help students connect different ideas and build on what they've noticed, consider spending short periods of time on the rich task and coming back to it several times.

  3. Students can take the rich tasks offline by using physical objects found at home.

  4. Use prompts and questions to help students go deeper with each rich task. Some suggestions are below.

Rich Task 1: Jumping Frogs

Frogs can only hop one spot forward, or jump over one other frog. Can you swap the frogs around? This is a popular puzzle, with a challenge that's enticing to explore.

Ideas for running Jumping Frogs in a remote-learning environment:

  • Students can make it physical by setting up the lily pads, e.g. using pieces of paper, and different types of objects for each set of frogs, e.g. blue pens and red pens, or almonds and walnuts, or red Lego and green Lego.

  • Invite students to share their ways of recording frogs' moves, i.e. how they use drawings, lists or tables.

  • Go deep by asking questions such as:How do you know you've swapped the frogs with the least number of moves? What if you started with 4 frogs on each side? Or 5? Or 10? Or n?

Access a lesson plan for Jumping Frogs here.

Rich Task 2: Crosses

Can you place the digits from 1 to 9 in a cross, so that the sum of the vertical numbers and the sum of the horizontal numbers is the same? The power of Crosses comes out as students start to find different solutions and realise there's more to this puzzle than meets the eye.

Ideas for running Crosses in a remote-learning environment:

  • Students can make it physical by writing the digits 1-9 on separate pieces of paper and using these to make a cross.

  • Have a shared online whiteboard where students can write up and view each other's solutions.

  • Go deep by asking questions such as: Can you see any patterns with the solutions that have been found? How many possible solutions are there? How do you know?

Access a lesson plan for Crosses here.

Rich Task 3: Nim

Start with a pile of counters. You can take 1 or 2 per turn. You win if you take the last counter. Nim is a fun game, that is easy to get started and has heaps of extensions.

Ideas for running Nim in a remote-learning environment:

  • Use break-out rooms, so students can play with a peer online.

  • Get students to teach a sibling or parent the game and play with them. Instead of counters, they can use other objects like pencils, stones or pieces of pasta.

  • Go deep by providing prompts such as: How can you ensure you always win? What if you started with a smaller/larger pile? If students find a strategy that works, they can explore a variation of the game (e.g. 1-4 Nim, or player who takes the last counter loses).

Access a lesson plan for Nim here.

If you use one of these rich tasks or there's another that you've run remotely, I'd love to hear. I'm curious about the different experiences teachers are having with rich tasks and what types of activities, virtual tools or other resources are being used.


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© 2019 by Michaela Epstein. 

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