Designing & Implementing a 3-Act Lesson: The Drumstick Dash

If we want innovative students, we need to be innovative leaders and educators.

                                                         – George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset


On November 19, 2015, I received the following text.  Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 12.23.10 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-05 at 9.10.16 PM

The text was from my former student teacher, Chris Depew, who’s now rocking the teaching world with a classroom of his own.  Although I’ve created a few 3-act lessons (2 solid, 1 boring), I appreciated his request not because it asks for my expertise but for its invitation to create.  I often ask teachers:

  • I have an idea, can I experiment w/ your students?
  • Can I try something new?
  • Are you interested in this activity I’ve created?
  • Do you want to try something different??

So, I welcomed Chris flipping the invitation on me.  In the book, Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros quoted The Center for Accelerated Learning, who states:

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.25.03 AMLearning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates. Learning happens when a learner integrates new knowledge and skill into his or her existing structure of self. Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings, new neural networks, and new patterns of electro/ chemical interactions within one’s total brain/ body system.[ 35]

As a result of tinkering with 3-act lessons, my understanding of its purpose and development is more clear.  I have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t and I’ve started integrating the components of a 3-act lesson (mystery and reveal) into my existing pedagogical approach.  Now that Chris has created a 3-act, he too, has a greater understanding of how to design an activity that draws in students almost tricking them into learning.


Clarifying Questions

After a few brainstorming sessions via text and email, Chris narrowed his focus to proportional reasoning.  He was registered for Roanoke’s Thanksgiving 5k (The Drumstick Dash) and wished to merge the two.  My job was to ask questions to help Chris organize his thoughts and map out a plan of action.

  • What’s the question you want to your students to explore?
    • Me:  As mentioned, this required a few brainstorming sessions prior to answering this question.  Once this question was solidified, the rest fell into place.
  • What information should be in act 1?
    • Chris:  I came up with the idea of filming the start of the race to give the students a bit of background and a bit of a tease.  I stopped the video when the race began.  I hoped to get the students intrigued on what came next. It worked.  Many students had great questions and asked for more information.
  • What equipment do you need to gather that information?
    • Chris: I used a GoPro
  • How will you get that information on video?
    • Chris:  At the beginning I was tossing around a lot of different ideas on how to make it interesting for the students and fit with what we are learning. I had to take detailed notes to ensure I’d be able get everything I needed in the video with just one take… We were only running once!
  • Who’s going to shoot the video?
    • Chris:  I held the video camera while running.
  • Based on act 1, what information do you expect students to need/request?
    • Chris:  Distance of race, and specific time markers – mile 1 and mile 2
  • How will you present this information?
    • Chris:  In a  video:
    • Me: I took still shots from the video.  See below.
  • What information needs to be in the reveal/What will the reveal/act 3 look like?
    • Me:  Chris created anticipation within the reveal by showing the time as they approached the finish.  Then he showed the final time.  A successful reveal keeps them on the edge of their seats. Students were glued to the screen waiting to see the final time.
    • Chris:  It was great to see my students’ reactions as we crossed the finish line. Many cheered because they guessed we would be faster than our goal. Some were upset because they were within a few seconds and they wanted to get the time right on the dot.
    • Chris:  As I pieced the 3-act together, I anticipated the answers I’d get. As I taught the lesson, students asked questions I didn’t even think about, such as:  How many 5ks have I done?  How much training do I do a week? What is my fastest mile time?


The Lesson

Once Chris finish and uploaded the videos on youtube, I searched out a 7th grade teacher to let me test it out.  Thanks go out to Mrs. Altenbach for being that teacher.  Here’s what happened on my end …

Act 1:  Setting up the Problem

  1. Show video,
  2. Elicit class questions
  3. Focus in on one question
  4. Prior to the estimation piece, I took a poll of class.  Who thinks they will make their goal of finishing the race in 28 minutes? Who Doesn’t?
  5. Go through estimation part (too fast, too slow and possible).
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.07.59 AM

Example of one set of questions


Act 2:  Information Gathering

  1.  Student’s write down, share and request the information needed to answer the question.
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.23.57 AM

Distance of Race

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.24.56 AM

Mile 1 split – See the mile 1 sign?

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.24.35 AM

Mile 2 split

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.25.18 AM

You can use this for the distance if you choose.  A few students asked if the course was flat or had hills.

2.  Now let the students work to find a solution. Observation: Students used a variety of strategies but were confused with parts of time conversion.  These misconceptions popped up in Chris’ classroom as well as mine.

  • Students were fine adding the time amounts and then converting from
    • 16:61 to 17:01
    • 24:91 to 25:31
  • S0me students struggled when multiplying
    • Misconception: 
      • multiplied 3.1 by 8:30 to get 25.73.
      • Then converted 25.73 to 26:13
    • Instead of
      • multiplying 3.1 by 8.5 to get 26.35 (26 minutes and .35 of a minute)
      • Then multiply .35 by 60 = 21 seconds to get a final answer of 26 minutes and 21 seconds.
    • Mix of understanding and misconceptions
      • Understanding
        • Added 8:30 3 times = 25min 30sec. 
      • Misconception
        • Then multiplied 0.1 by 8:30 = 0.83 
        • Added:  25m 30s + .83 = 26 min 53 sec
      • Instead of: 
        • Multiplying 0.85 x 60 = 51 sec  (25:30 + 0:51 = 26:21) or
        • 1/10 of 8 minutes is 48 seconds.  1/10 of 30 seconds is 3 seconds. 25:30 + 0:51 = 26:21


Act 3:  The Reveal

1.  Show the video

2. Click here and here to see video of student reactions.

3.  Discuss the different strategies students used to determine their answer.

4.  Return to the original question set. This is one of my favorite parts. As Dan Meyer points out,  it’s best to ask the questioner if his/her question was answered.

  • Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.07.59 AMAngel:  Yes.  26:03 to be exact
  • Princess:  A classmate addressed this question.
  • Nick:  He determined, yes
  • Ray:  Around 13,000. Every class wondered about this, so I looked up the answer.
  • Ismael:  A race on Thanksgiving Day
  • Timmy:  5k/3.1 miles
  • Alex:  To feed the homeless
  • Devin:  26 min and 3 sec  (26:03)
  • Danyon: She speculated that it was big b/c of the holiday and the cause
  • Josh:  (Based on the map) Taubman Museum of Art
  • Caesar:  My former student teacher (now teacher) and his friend.


The Sequel

Chris created a sequel video.  I didn’t have time for the sequel but he did.   Here’s his experience …

Chris: I used the sequel as my introduction into ratio and proportions.  I told my students that we were going to compare the steps based on one minute. The video had a running total for every 10 steps. Some students counted to themselves even though the video showed a counter. The students wrote down our steps. After the video, they had to fill in the missing pieces for the table.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 9.29.50 PM

Many students took off with the table. They were able to play with the numbers and fill in the steps for all the sections until they got to the Whole Race.  This column confused them a bit.  I told them: “You have all the pieces in front of you.” I suggested to add some of the minutes that they already know to get to 26.  (i.e.  10+10+5+1). In order to get the 3 seconds students figured out that they needed to calculate the 30 seconds and divide it by 10 to get 3 seconds.

I heard students make the following comment:  The time doubled, so the steps need to double too. Some students didn’t know where to start until a member of their table started piecing it together. Then they noticed a pattern and were able to move forward.


Closing Thoughts

Chris:  The period I struggle with the most ended up being the most engaged. Their interest surprised me. They had great discussions between the video segments. Many of them were passionate about their estimations and strongly felt they were going to be right. Many of them are low achieving in all areas of school, including math, but they all participated in conversations and offered thought provoking questions.


Other Posts:

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 11.06.22 PM


About jgvadnais

Instructional Technology Coach. Desmos Fellow. Google Level 1 Certified. SoCal transplant. New Englander at heart. Lover of yoga, dogs, green smoothies and coffee creamer
This entry was posted in 3-Act, proportional reasoning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Designing & Implementing a 3-Act Lesson: The Drumstick Dash

  1. Dan Meyer says:

    Super helpful to read your process here, Jenn. Thanks for the insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Generating questions | 17GoldenFish

  3. Pingback: 3 Act Lesson: Volume of a Cylinder | Communicating Mathematically

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