Rewarding, Messy, Fun - the richness of rich tasks

Oct 16, 2022

We have been working with a number of schools looking at the NZ maths curriculum, a balanced diet of task types and effective planning processes. One of the biggest take-aways from this mahi is that rich tasks can be fun, rewarding and extremely informative for seeing what a teacher’s best next steps are. 

Rich tasks can be delivered to small groups, given out for individual ākonga or even run as a whole class. Through rich tasks ākonga can explore how different mathematical procedures can be applied to real-life situations, they can discuss what they are doing and can explain complex processes. Meanwhile, just as the learners are exploring, the teacher can be exploring and treat the task as a rich snapshot of learning - scaffolding those who need a helping hand and giving opportunities and prompts for extension. A rich task is a rich opportunity for active and timely differentiation - and the bonus is that they are fun to explore alongside ākonga.


What is a rich task?

A rich task is an unfamiliar task that requires a few different processes or procedures to be able to work out the answer. It is ‘rich’ because there is more than one step to figuring out the solution. It could also be ‘rich’ because there are multiple ways in to the problem. 


How can you use them?

You could use a rich task at the beginning of the week to help to plan content for the rest of the week - or you could use a rich task at the end of the week to help to plan the content for the next week - or you could use a rich task as a playful way to see if your ākonga can apply some of the processes they have learned. It is a rich way to plan for formative assessment. 


What is best practice for a warm-up? 

Ideally, a rich task should not be experienced ‘cold’ even though it should be unfamiliar. As a snapshot of learning, you need to see how ākonga are responding in the moment to the problem in front of them. A good warm-up might be solving a similar problem and justifying the solution to revise a key process - or looking at a similar context with a different (but more simplified) applied exercise. 


What are the best planning tips?

Planning with an empathy hat on is vital. What might ākonga need to understand the task? What manipulatives might they need? How might a ‘resource on stand by’ be used effectively just in case it is needed? Thinking about how ākonga can be enabled and extended before the task is launched is a really important step to ensure success for all. 

Ākonga love rich tasks because they are an opportunity to be agentic. They can choose how they solve the problem, they can choose to draw or to use manipulatives, they can use counters or dice, big paper or whiteboards and they can work alone or in pairs, in groups or in clusters.

Another benefit of a rich task is that it can be ‘low floor and high ceiling’. This means that you can provide some enabling prompts for ākonga who might struggle to start (some helpful diagrams or even a helpful formula) to give them their ‘way in’ to step onto the ‘low floor’. You can also engineer some extension ideas to create a higher ceiling for ākonga who are ready to stretch to a deeper level of understanding. 

Rich tasks might have a ‘right answer’ but they don’t have a right way to find it. The example images inset are from a group of year 4 students who all found a different way to solve a rich task about gardening (found on the nzmaths website). Each group, pair or individual was completely engaged with following their own process to figure it out. There were rich discussions, expressive explaining and multiple ‘aha’ moments for them as they explored the task with felts, paper, whiteboards, grids and counters. 

These images show an incredible amount of thinking, sequencing and clever problem-solving. The steps involved in coming up with their solutions were varied but all of them found success at the level that they were operating at - with room for being enabled and extended according to their needs. 

There is no necessary ‘finished’ presentation either. The wonderfully messy maths of a rich task is hands-on, memorable and fun. It is process over product and it shows ākonga that persistence pays off, procedures can be applied to multiple contexts and that maths can be relevant and rewarding.


What do ākonga say? 

“That was so fun”

“I am proud of how I went above and beyond what I thought I could do”

“I made a mistake in the sequencing part but I see that now”

“I was so excited to work out the pattern!”

“It’s like sneaky maths because it doesn’t feel like maths”


What do the teachers say?

“It is amazing at how much you can ‘see’ in an activity like this.”

“It really helps me to do meaningful and personalised planning”

“I’m surprised that some of my middle band learners were ready for extension”

“I didn’t think they would be able to do this.”


The results of rich tasks are surprising, messy, wonderful and conversation-worthy. Rich tasks are rich.

Check out the rich tasks on the nzmaths website to start your rich and fun messy maths journey.  Rich tasks can be fun, rewarding and extremely informative for seeing what a teacher’s best next steps are - and your first step? Giving it a go. 


If you would like to access some support with numeracy and mathematics learning design, get in touch with one of our team - we make numbers fun.

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