Problem Solving with Anchored Instruction

The Jasper materials are responding to the perpetual issue of making learning relevant to our students. The Jasper program aims to show students real-life problems that require skills, problem solving, and critical thinking related to the classroom material they are encountering.

Since I became a teacher, I have surprisingly struggled with the teaching of math. This has been surprising to me because I did really well in math all throughout my schooling. In “teacher school” we were shown many new ways of teaching math that branched away from the traditional rote memorization, focusing on there being more than one way to arrive at an answer and sometimes more than one correct answer to a problem; however, bringing this teaching to my grade 3 students in a classroom setting has been a whole other dilemma. In my first year I started following the program, Math Makes Sense. This brought hands-on learning activities, worksheet practice on facts and skills, and some in depth opportunities, however, I was not making it through the units, they took forever! I felt like the only way I could get through them would be to do math all day, but what about teaching reading and writing, and then science and everything else? I have tried other programs, such as Primary Success, which provides a well-rounded curriculum of fact building. I incorporate Mad Minutes because I do see the value in continuing rote memorization of basic facts. I have tried math stations and have seen some positive correlations arise from that system. I do feel I have not encountered something that works as well as I want it too, though.

I found myself with some extra time this week due to 2 snow days (we NEVER have snow days in the Kootenays, by the way, because we are used to getting a lot of snow, but this snowfall has been exceptional!). I was quite energized after the readings and decided to use my extra time to create a set of word problems that I could use with my students. Could I get through my curriculum using problem solving incorporating multiple math topics instead of traditional unit lessons and worksheet practice? The Cognition and Technology Group of Vanderbilt (1992a) states that “students need to develop [component skills] in the context of meaningful problem posing and problem-solving activities rather than as isolated ‘targets’ of instruction (p. 66). I focused on creating these problems to anchor my instruction by making them complex, requiring significant formulation, and having multiple viable solutions that “highlight the relevance of mathematics or science to the world outside the classroom” (Pellegrino & Brophy, 2008, p. 281). I have attempted to achieve this through incorporating the names of my students throughout the problems, investigating daily issues that arise for my students, and further personalizing the problem by using pictures of my students encountering the problem. At first, I thought I would try this out with my students as whole class guided lessons. As I read these articles further, however, I grew to understand the necessity of designing this time to “scaffold learners’ knowledge construction by fostering a community of learning and inquiry,” (Pellegrino & Brophy, 2008, p. 281) as well as allowing for “extended collaborative problem solving across multiple days and multiple activities” (Hickey, Moore, & Pellegrino, 2001, p. 614).

I am very interested in the idea of Legacy projects, too. I find this partners well with my use of a class blog, as I am able to pull up pictures and video of students from previous years to showcase a similar project we may be working on. There seems to be a pull towards making a video for students, too, that is motivating and seems to draw many of them into the project as well, perhaps as the authors state, because it “helps them see themselves as part of a community whole goal is to teach others as well as to learn” (Pellegrino & Brophy, 2008, p. 293).

The readings this week and the investigation into Jasper leaves me with wheels turning towards what my possible TELE project could be at the end of this course. I look forward to continuing to explore this area.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

Hickey, D. T., Moore, A. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2001). The motivational and academic consequences of elementary mathematics environments: Do constructivist innovations and reforms make a difference? American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 611-652.

Pellegrino, J.W. & Brophy, S. (2008). From cognitive theory to instructional practice: Technology and the evolution of anchored instruction. In Ifenthaler, Pirney-Dunner, & J.M. Spector (Eds.) Understanding models for learning and instruction, New York: Springer Science + Business Media, pp. 277-303.


  1. Hi Allison,

    It’s great to hear that you’ve been able to implement aspects of anchored instruction so quickly. I’m also interested in doing so but I wonder how much of Jasper’s success is related to that fact that it was a video as opposed to a word problem or a teacher telling a “story”. Sometimes I feel that the change of pace that comes from watching a video helps to pique their interest simply because of its novelty.

    Please do share how your lessons went as I’m curious about their applications and how they can be modified to become more easily implemented (filming and editing a video series, in addition to planning and designing the problems, can take a fair amount of time).

    I do, however, see benefit in the elementary level, as one video, if planned and filmed properly, could be used for multiple subjects, adding a cross-curricular component to the lesson. Having students revisit the same video but analyze it from a different subject view point would be very helpful in promoting the idea of curiosity and observation of the world around them.

    Good luck with the activities!

  2. Hi Allison and Lawrence,

    Allison, I have struggled in the same ways you have to deliver the math curriculum to my students. I was trained for secondary English, so my elementary math training is limited to the Pro-D I have done since switching to grade 4/5 (split class) four years ago and collaboration with my colleagues. However, even my colleagues who have had targeted instruction during their education degrees have the same concerns that I do. I have yet to make it through an entire math curriculum by the end of the school year, and often find myself scrambling to cover the last unit (or two!) at the end. I have tried numerous books (including Math Makes Sense, Jump Math, the new B.C. math curriculum online textbook out of the Lower Mainland that was just completed this summer, and so on) but have yet to find one that really works for me. The most successful year I had was a compilation of work from all over the place including a variety of different textbooks and online resources. I too have been interested, after the readings this week, in looking further into a Jasper series-style approach to math work with my students. My students do love to work in groups to discuss and collaborate on math problems, but I do find that one or two students in each group take on the leadership roles, while other students passively watch and record what they can. Like Lawrence, I would be very interested in ideas that you come up with as this area continues to be a struggle for me. Lawrence, I thought your point that the videos could provide cross-curricular learning is an excellent point. The videos seem like they would lend themselves to social studies and science curriculums easily, as well as allowing for teachers to integrate cultural components as well.

  3. Hi Everyone!
    It was a pleasure reading about you trying out different things to make math come alive for your students, Allison! That is amazing to see! I too am very curious to see how something we have just learned in this course might work out in the real world, in your classroom :D.

    Lawrence, I really like your point on using the same video but through the lens of multiple perspectives. I am curious to know what would be the pros and cons of using one video for analysis.

    You make a very interesting point about discussing all topics in the curriculum with your students Mary and Allison. What’s interesting is that yes the Jasper series opens up the world of problem solving so students can construct their own knowledge, but at the cost of time? That too when there is pressure on covering the curriculum. It is quite a daunting task to give students time on one hand to think and learn, and the other to have time to help students think about all that’s in the curriculum.

    Thanks for sharing everyone!

  4. Just a quick comment, Allison, related to this part in your post:

    “I have attempted to achieve this through incorporating the names of my students throughout the problems, investigating daily issues that arise for my students, and further personalizing the problem by using pictures of my students encountering the problem.”

    Although I appreciate the “real-life” problem aspect in the Jasper series, I believe that the series’ design is aimed towards students in grades 5 to 8. From the samples that I viewed and read about, the “real-life” scenarios are not overly relevant to students in grades 5 to 8! I am intrigued by your idea to design problem-solving that is very individual to your students, class, school and community. Your idea is the essence of “real-life” application! All the best as you continue to formulate and explore framework for your TELE!

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