Throughout this blog post, we use the phrase “Anchor Problem” to refer to both Anchor Tasks in our 3–5 curriculum and Anchor Problems in our 6–8 curriculum.
We are always looking for ways to make your teaching as effective, efficient, and sustainable as possible. To help provide even more support, we are introducing a new feature in the Fishtank Math curriculum: Student Responses to Anchor Problems.
What are Student Responses to Anchor Problems?
If you have been using Fishtank in your math classroom, you know that Anchor Problems are at the core of our lessons. These problems are designed to spark interest, get students investigating new concepts, and guide students as they connect new knowledge to previous learning. In the past, our lessons provided the problem, guiding questions, and notes for teachers to consider while engaging with students.
Now, we have added sample student responses to these Anchor Problems. Because of the nature of these problems, there are often multiple correct representations of the correct answer and we therefore intend for teachers to use our Student Response as a representative sample of what students might come up with. Keep in mind, your students may still surprise you with another correct option of their own!
This example from Lesson 2 of our 5th Grade Place Value with Decimals unit illustrates one possible student response for the Anchor Problem.
How will this impact my teaching?
At Fishtank, we are committed to helping teachers prepare for lessons effectively and efficiently. Our Unit Launches and Teacher Tools (available to Fishtank Plus users) guide math teachers through the process of internalizing content and planning to support students. To further positively impact math instruction and support that internalization process, Fishtank Plus users will now have access to Student Responses. Teachers have been asking us to make this change and we were so excited to be able to do just that.
There are so many ways that teachers can use these responses to enhance their lessons, but we want to highlight three of the most important areas where you will see an immediate, positive impact.
1. Make Your Lesson Prep More Efficient
When it comes to preparing a lesson, we know that every minute counts. Whether a family meeting pops up unexpectedly, a student needs your attention, or your grade level decides that you have to meet this afternoon, there is never enough time. By providing these Student Responses to Anchor Problems, you can quickly confirm, with confidence, that you have accurately outlined the correct solving process and solution. By offering you a representative sample Student Response, you can anticipate a broader range of ways students might approach the Anchor Problem and focus on possible ways to help facilitate their understanding of the underlying concepts. We don’t expect these Student Responses to replace your internalization of the lesson, but rather support the process by allowing you to confirm your solutions after engaging with the material.
If you are tackling a new grade level or just content you haven’t worked with in a while, (maybe since you were a student yourself?) these Student Responses can ease any anxiety you may have had about diving into the lesson. As you increase your own comfort with, and knowledge of, the content your ability to provide meaningful and effective instruction increases. These Student Responses are here to affirm the work you’re putting in and help you step in front of students with confidence.
2. Support Your Students in the Moment
So you have the lesson planned and you are pretty positive that the answer you came up with for Anchor Problem 1 is the one way to correctly solve it. You are ready to tackle it with students. Everything is going according to plan and then, suddenly, your students start offering up answers that don’t match what you had come up with. We’ve all been there. Did I mess up when I was planning? Are my students just not on the right track? Or maybe, did they come up with something I didn’t see?
Let’s rewind for a minute. Instead of coming into class with one solution for this Anchor Problem, what if you had already been prepared to hear two, three, four, even five different correct representations of the solution? As you internalize the lesson and review the Student Responses, you will be better prepared for the variety and richness of your students' thinking rather than getting stalled on whether your solution really is the right one.
This example from Lesson 1 of the 6th Grade Understanding and Representing Ratios unit illustrates seven possible student responses. You can easily identify correct answers and help students make connections between the various responses.
With Student Responses to Anchor Problems, you are better able to support your students in the moment as you confidently compare and contrast student solutions while addressing opportunities to deepen student understanding. One of our core values here at Fishtank is trusting teachers and we know that you have the expertise when it comes to addressing your unique students’ needs. That is why we want you to be able to focus on anticipating how you will facilitate meaningful classroom conversations that help students analyze the best solution for a given problem. Armed with the Student Responses, you will be able to guide your students towards a deeper understanding of the concepts.
3. Engage Others Outside the Classroom
We know that it takes a village to raise a child and while you are an incredibly critical part of that village, you aren’t the only one. When engaging families, it can often be difficult to establish a shared understanding of what a student’s work should look and sound like. With these Student Responses, you can easily give families a tangible example of what is expected of their student and work together to identify opportunities to build their student’s understanding. This same idea extends to working with others within your building. Whether you are lucky enough to have a co-teacher, or have an interventionist that plans to pull for small group sessions, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page by grounding the team in these Student Responses.
Finally, observations and feedback are a key part of improving your instructional practice—no matter how long you’ve been doing it. When someone comes to observe your classroom, you can easily engage them with the Anchor Problem by providing them the Student Responses. You won’t need to miss a beat trying to catch your observer up on what you are working on and working towards. This observer will now be able to recognize the amazing work you are putting in to bring your students to the correct answer and the conceptual understandings that your students are developing.
Currently, Grades 3–8 have Student Responses for all Anchor Problems in Unit 1. Student Responses are being added to all Anchor Problems in the 3–8 math curriculum on a rolling basis over the next several months. Teachers that are following the course scope and sequence should have access to Student Responses by the time they need them for all subsequent units.
Ready to see for yourself? Upgrade to Fishtank Plus today for access to Student Responses for all Anchor Problems and tons of other amazing features and Teacher Tools!
Rachel Fuhrman is the Curriculum Marketing Manager at Fishtank Learning. Before joining Fishtank Learning, Rachel spent 5 years as a Middle School Special Education Teacher in New Orleans, LA and Harlem, NY. Outside of the classroom, she has been a frequent contributor to multiple education blogs and focuses primarily on student engagement and instructional practice topics. Rachel earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and her Master of Science in Educational Studies from The Johns Hopkins University.