Math Monday: Three Act Math - Cheetos

I first heard about Three Act Math a few years ago when Dan Meyer was the key note speaker at CAMT (a math conference for Texas teachers).  If you're not familiar with Three Act Math visit this post by Dan Meyer to get more details. His presentation was the basketball math problem featured in the linked post.  I thought it was a great idea! - except I couldn't figure out how to implement such a lesson in a fourth grade classroom. So I put Three Act Math in my "Sounds Like a Great Idea" box.

Last summer, I attended my district's math teacher institute and there it was - Three Act Math.  They presented several grade-level appropriate tasks.  A group of us teachers worked on the Penny Circle problem.   My instructional coach provided us with this link to even MORE awesome tasks.

I decided to give it a try using The Recovering Traditionalist as my inspiration. On the advice of my IC, I also watched Dan Meyer's Webinar.  Totally worth it.

Act I - According to Meyer - Your visual should be clear, and it should "strike you in the curiosity bone."

After each slide, I asked my students to write down what they noticed, or if they had any questions. This  Three Act Math form would've been really helpful, but it was one of those days when the copy machine decided not to do its job - of COURSE!

Some kid questions from this picture:
"What are you doing?"
"What are you watching?"
"Is that where you LIVE?!"

Clearly, these were not the questions I was hoping for but eventually one kid noticed the bags of Cheetos and asked, "Are you you filling bags with Cheetos?"

THIS was the slide that really did it for my kids.  Lots of wow-ing going on until finally someone asked:


I really did fill hundred of baggies of Cheetos.  Thank goodness for Fixer Upper!( <--Answer to: What are you watching?) In case you're curious: one 10 oz bag filled 12 snack-size bags.  I used the measuring cup in an attempt to keep serving sizes equal...ish, and to keep my fingers from being covered in delicious Cheeto dust.

Act 2 - According to Meyer - "the student overcomes obstacles, looks for resources"

Before moving on to the ACT 2 slides, I asked students to come up with the information they would need in order to solve the day's question: how many Cheetos is that?

Most students were able to tell me they needed to know how many bags there are, and how many Cheetos were in each bag.  A few students said things like: the size of the measuring cup,  the amount of Cheetos in the large bag, the number of bags I purchased.  I let the students discuss these suggestions and convince each other of what was actually necessary.


Here's the only picture I had in Act 2.  Students quickly counted, and wrote down the amount of Cheetos in this bag.

I told them there were enough snack bags for each student in class to get one.  They quickly worked to solve the problem.  When they were finished, I told them to make sure everyone around them had the same answer, and to ask people around them if they needed help.

A few minutes later, they had their answer ready to go.

Act 3 - According to Meyer - "resolves the conflict."

The moment after the above slide was amazing!  The kids were staring at the screen, excited. I held on this slide for a few extra seconds until I heard one of them say, "Show us the answer!"

Cheering, and high-fives happening at this point.  They were so excited that they got the answer right.

And then..this:

It was so funny seeing the kids' reaction to this slide. Complete shock. They were trying to convince me that their math was correct. I didn't show the slide with the correct answer until after I had students discuss why the "answer" wasn't right. I heard things like: there were more in some bags than in others; less in some bags; and, even - Mrs. Vu ate them all...

I showed the them the "real" answer (totally made up, by the way), and all was well in the world.

I pulled out the bags of Cheetos and we ate them while reading science books.

My kids enjoyed this activity.  I asked them to share what they liked:

"We weren't just doing word problems."

"We got to help each other."

"We found our own question to solve."

"It was like a puzzle because we had to use clues."

Overall, I really enjoyed stepping out of the math stations map and trying something new.  Next time, I will be sure to have the activity form copied and ready to go.  I think it would add a bit more structure to the lesson.  I also forgot to ask them to talk about answers that were "too low" and "too high" (after the kids determined the question).  I think this piece is important so kids can practice reasonableness in a real situation.

Do you have any other resources for Three Act Math tasks?  Share any links or other ideas below.

Three amazing things:
1. I finally "ran" again - slowly.
2. We're headed to the Museum of Natural Science soon!
3. I'm on book 11 of 13 for my reading challenge via GoodReads.