Math 7-9

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Math 7-9 > Strategies > Cognitively Demanding Tasks

Cognitively Demanding Tasks


Providing math tasks with high cognitive demand conveys high expectations for all students by challenging them to engage in higher-order thinking. When students work with these complex or ill-structured problems, they explore and make conceptual connections and can practice Algebraic Thinking, Geometric Reasoning, and Statistical Reasoning.

Use It in the Classroom

Watch how this seventh grade teacher uses cognitively demanding tasks to explore Proportional Reasoning. As students work in pairs and approach these tasks in different ways, they practice their Math Communication and critique each others' arguments.

  • Teachers should focus on helping each student achieve productive struggle as they work on these tasks. Differentiating support (e.g., providing background knowledge and/or targeted modeling) while still maintaining the rigor of the problem has been shown to be important in ensuring that all students engage in high-level thinking. Teachers can also assign these tasks individually to provide extra challenge or in a small group or whole class to provide supports. Whatever the structure, it is critical for teachers to ask probing questions and provide feedback during the process, and having discussions after these tasks builds Mathematical Flexibility and provides opportunities to address misconceptions.
  • Design It into Your Product

    Videos are chosen as examples of strategies in action. These choices are not endorsements of the products or evidence of use of research to develop the feature.

    Learn how ST Math requires students to problem solve through exploration. As students solve these challenging, cognitively demanding puzzles, they develop their conceptual understanding in topics like Algebraic Thinking and Proportional Reasoning.

  • Products can also use cognitively demanding tasks to focus students' Attention on the underlying concepts behind math procedures like Operations. To build conceptual knowledge, one of the primary goals of these tasks, products must provide what research describes as "sufficient (not too little, not too much)" time for students to use cognitive effort and solve these problems. Designing ways to monitor if students are still working through the task or have become disengaged can help find the right time for each student.
  • Factors Supported by this Strategy