3-Act Math

UDL 1.1

3-Act Math is an inquiry-based strategy where students analyze a visual image with the three-part, story-telling structure (i.e., set up, confrontation, resolution) to demonstrate and solve a math problem. In Act 1, the teacher sets up a conflict or problem using an image (e.g., a time-lapsed photo of someone shooting a basketball) and poses a question (e.g. "Does the ball have the correct trajectory to go through the hoop?") During Act 2, students confront the problem by identifying what information and resources are needed in order to find resolution (e.g., mathematical formulas, mass of the ball). After students have developed a plan to solve the problem, the teacher presents key information (e.g., the height of the basketball hoop) and prompts the students to work in their groups to calculate an answer. For Act 3, the teacher provides resolution by revealing the answer, concluding with a student discussion about their experiences while solving the problem (e.g., strategies used, successes, challenges).

Implementation Tips

Choosing a Lesson
Choose lessons that can support concepts that students have already learned to emphasize the process of 3-Act Math. For a list of pre-planned lesson ideas, click [[ | 3-Act Math Lessons]].
Pre-determine visuals to use prior to implementing each lesson. Find photographs to represent real-world problems for students to analyze or make the visuals interactive (e.g., having an empty jar and bags of gumballs for students to examine when determining how many gumballs will be able to fit inside the jar).
Choose open-ended prompting questions for students to ponder during Act 1 that emphasize a low-entry point for all students (e.g., asking a question that allows students the opportunity to write a simple guess first). Students should use their predictions and natural intrigue to work through Act 2 in small groups.
Provide Tools
Determine additional materials that students might need when solving a given scenario before implementing a 3-Act Math lesson. When students are working through Act 2, give them tools, such as calculators, rulers, and other manipulatives to support their calculations.
Build Routines
Teach students to interactively take notes in a content notebook during a 3-Act Math lesson. Students should be expected to record their thinking while solving a visual story. Sections might include: Predictions, Questions, Models and Calculations, and Conclusions.
Extension Activities
Encourage students to deepen their understanding of each 3-Act Math lesson concept by asking them to reflect on the learning process at the end of Act 3. Students can share their reflections verbally or can record responses into their math notebooks. Challenge students by giving them related extension problems to practice the skill and work towards mastery.


Multiplication and Division
A third grade teacher uses 3-Act Math to teach multiplication/division relationships using patterns by presenting a visual of the University of Wisconsin’s mascot, [[|Bucky the Badger]], briefly explaining that he does push-ups based on the points his team scores. Students are prompted to participate in Act 2 of the lesson (e.g., “How many push-ups will Bucky do?”). Students collaborate to determine the information needed to solve the scenario, such as the number of points scored. After providing the necessary information, students determine the actual solution with models. Lastly, students share their models and determine which is the most efficient as a whole class.
Geometry Formulas
During a geometry unit, a teacher presents an interactive visual of a box of pancake mix and a true to size image of a pancake, and asks, “How many pancakes will this mix make?” Students use their knowledge of volume formulas to determine the information needed to solve the problem (e.g., measurements of the pancake, how much batter the box contains). After the teacher provides this information, students make predictions and work together using tables and drawings to construct models to represent their calculations. During Act 3, the teacher extends the activity by asking students how the formula would differ if the dimensions of the pancakes changed.

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