Cutting Up the Math Into Bite-sized Pieces

When I train new math and special education teachers I explain that teaching math should be like feeding a hot dog to a baby in a high chair. Cut up the hot dog into bite-sized pieces. The baby will still consumer the entire hot dog. Same with math. Our students can consume the entire math topic being presented but in smaller chunks.

bite sized pieces

My approach to doing this is through a task analysis. This is very similar to chunking. It is a method to cut up the math into bite-sized pieces just as we would break up a common task for students with special needs.

Image result for task analysis

While waiting for my coffee order at a Burger King I saw on the wall a different version of a task analysis. It was a step by step set of directions using photos on how to pour a soft cream ice-cream cone. I thought it was amazing that Burger King can do such a good job training its employees by breaking the task down yet in education we often fall short in terms of breaking a math topic down.

soft cream icecream cone task analysis
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8 thoughts on “Cutting Up the Math Into Bite-sized Pieces

  1. koloradokyd says:

    So I tried to break down a task my scholars are doing in Alg 2 just now, finding the axis of symmetry and the vertex of a given quadratic.

    Consider the task of “find the axis of symmetry and vertex of f(x)=2x^2+5x-1

    !st cut remember the general form f(x)=ax^2+bx+c
    2nd cut identify the values of a,b and c.
    a=2, b=5, c=1
    3rd cut remember the equation of the axis of symmetry. x=(-b)/(2a)
    4th cut substitute the values into the equation of the axis of symmetry.
    x=(-5)/(2*2)=-5/4 x+-5/4 is the axis of symmetry
    5th cut the vertex is at the point (-5/4,f(-5/4))
    6th cut calculate f(-5/4)
    7th cut f(-5/4)=2(-5/4)^2+5(-5/4)-1=(-50/16)-25/4-1=(-50/16)-(100/16)-16/16=(-166/16)=(-84/8)=(-42/4)=-21/2

    The Axis of symmetry is x=(-5/4) and the vertex is at ((-5/4),(-21/2)

    Somehow the 7 bites from the 7 cuts don’t seem bite size…..but I can’t think of how to make the cuts smaller…..

  2. Hey Doug, here is what I came up with. It has some conceptual steps, some definitions (e.g. symmetry) and some prerequisite skills (fractions)

  3. […] reader asked about an algebra 2 problem and shared (below) his effort to cut up the math into bite-sized pieces. I greatly appreciate his effort because he is trying to meet student needs. While this post is […]

  4. […] math breaking down the math topic is imperative. The analogy I use is to break the topic down into bite-sized pieces like we cut up a hot dog for a baby in a high […]

  5. […] Reduce the amount of information presented in a lesson segment. […]

  6. […] have written about how we cut up a hotdog for a baby in a highchair and that we could do the same for math topics using a task analysis and chunking approach. Related to this, I recommended that support class be […]

  7. […] I use a task analysis approach to break down the math topic like we cut up a hotdog for a baby in a high chair. MOST of the steps […]

  8. […] student or students working on graphing a linear function using an XY table (image below). Using a task analysis approach, this topic can be broken up into smaller parts: completing an XY table, plotting points and […]

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