High Expectations and Scaffolding. Yes? No? When?

25 January 2020 | Natalia Chambers

Student working on the task.

The other day in my 4th grade classroom I offered a problem from Erma’s LiveBinder titled, “The Baker”.  I’ve been thinking about the assessments I give and if my students are “used to” the language. The Baker is a rich task that offers several scaffolds before leading to the final task; a challenging multi-step problem requiring higher level thinking, modeling, problem solving, you name it.   The part of me that wanted to ease my students in to it had to back off. At this point I’m asking myself, “Can they really do this?” “Can scaffolds be a crutch?” “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” It’s only a math problem, a pretty safe place to fail. Here’s what happened...

First, students took a picture of the problem with their tablets so they could bring it with them into our flexible learning space.  This is where we get to write on the walls! I posted the table with additional information on an easel for reference. Right off the bat, the English Language Learners were struggling.  Usually, these particular students display advanced math skills. After a bit, a few others followed suit. I coached students to model and about half of them figured the entire problem out.  Everyone could do something.  As you can see, models were creative and show thinking.  During reflection, we went back and did the four scaffold problems together. I’ve experienced students who rely on getting a lot of help before being given a final task. I’m wondering who does/does not depend on this at this point of the year. If I keep using these problems, I will likely just give the task first. Then, if the math anxiety gets out of control, offer the problems in order, as needed.  Ideally, I just want to aim high when I teach while being mindful of problems being within reach. I don’t want my math class to be a place of suffering. But, a little growth intended discomfort couldn’t hurt.


Here’s the task:

On Friday, a customer ordered exactly six boxes of three varieties of her baked goods. Each box can contain only one type of item. The customer wanted more than 30 but less than 40 items. Describe two different possible combinations the baker could put together and show how each meets the customer’s order.


The baker uses boxes of different sizes to carry her goods.

Cookie boxes hold 12 cookies.

Donut boxes hold 4 donuts.

Muffin boxes hold 2 muffins.

Bagel boxes hold 6 bagels.


There were 4 problems like this one before you even get to the task: 

1. On Monday she baked 24 of everything.

How many boxes did she need? Fill in the empty spaces.

Cookie boxes _____________ Donut boxes ____________

Muffin boxes _____________ Bagel boxes ____________