Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wood Splitting - A Middle School CCSS Math Lesson

I like create math situations for my students that relate to my life.  I like to do this in the hopes that my students see that everyday things can be related to the math they are learning.  My ultimate goal is for my students to consider the possibility of relating math to their lives.  This weekend is log splitting weekend.  One thing I love about the non-stop work and chores we have on our property is that often it is mindless work.  My job during wood splitting is to roll logs to my husband and to take the split pieces and turn them into a pile.  These tasks that do not take much brain power allow me to think about teaching, lessons, and math problems for my middle school students.  I take pictures to show my students to help them picture the context of the problems.

Our Pine Logs and Starting Pile

Our Oak Logs and Starting Pile

Here is the information for the problem:
  • Big pine logs provide 15 pieces of fire wood
  • Small pine logs provide 7 pieces of fire wood
  • We have 25 big pine logs and 21 small pine logs
  • We split big pine logs from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • We split small pine logs from 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
  • The pine pile started with 126 pieces of fire wood

I ask the students what math questions we can ask using this information and the concepts we are working on in class.

In my 7th grade classes we are working on Proportional Relationships, Constant of Proportionality, Unit Rate, Percents so the questions we create will be around those topics.  I have questions in mind so that if the students need guidance in creating, I can ask questions to move them if they get stuck.

In my 8th grade class we are working on solving equations.

In a few weeks I'll have my whiteboards up around the room so we can do this activity in a Math 360 environment which will change the entire dynamics of the lesson and the learning.

Here is  a photo of the completed wood pile:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Design Challenges In Math Class

Upon going back to the classroom this year, I promised myself I would continue some of the things I started doing as an instructional coach.  One of my must do's this year is Design Day.  One day a week, we have a design challenge in our math class.  The purpose of these challenges is:
  • to connect design thinking into the mathematics classrooom
  • to provide opportunities for my students to "fail" in a low stakes environment
  • to connect maker activities to learning mathematics 
  • to encourage problem solving, critical thinking, risk taking 
  • to provide meaningful reflection for students as they process their successes and challenges
  • to remember that we are designer-ish and that means some days we end up with a pile of nothing
The goal of our first two challenges was to provide the students with a task that would be challenging and provide many opportunities to fail and start again, to persevere or give up, to step out of their comfort zone and feel challenge and possibly failure.

Inevitably, there is always a group or two who end up with a pile of nothing at the end of the time.  This becomes an opportunity for the whole class to consider how and why this happened.  We discuss what went well and what did not.  It also provides the opportunity to explain to the students that in the end, everyone learned something - some learned how not to do it, other learned one way to do it.  When we do a class gallery walk, the students learn there are many possible outcomes and ways to complete the challenge and learning takes place in every one.

Interesting Insights:
  • It amazes me how quickly the students give up their paralyzing fear of failure and are willing to jump in and take risks, an example:
    • a group of high achieving eighth graders copped out of the first challenge by building a structure that was one inch high.  They struggled as they tried to make the tallest structure and there was no way they were going to have a pile of Popsicle sticks at the end of time, so they built a stable and very short structure.  They were not willing to take a chance and fail so they were happy with partial completion rather than total failure.
    • Fast forward to the Week 2 Challenge - these same students let go of their fear of failure and were all in.  They took risks and persevered and completed the challenge successfully.  In one short week these students shifted their mindset and embraced the possibility of failure.
Here are our first design challenges.  The first two gave students the opportunity to take risks and prototype quickly with the possibility of inevitable failure always looming.  After the first two tasks, I connected the challenge to our unit of study - proportional relationships.  The students spent the next two design days building models of our classroom.  Next is introducing the Design Thinking model (I'm stealing Vista Innovation and Design Academy's process CLICK HERE).  

Our First Challenges:
Design Challenge #1:  Build the tallest free standing structure (can be moved and is not taped to the desk, floor, table etc...) out of 40 Popsicle sticks and masking tape
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • Popsicle sticks were purchased at Dollar Tree
Design Challenge #2: Build a free standing structure out of straws and masking tape that will hold a box of 24 crayons 4 inches off the ground.
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • straws were purchased at Dollar Tree

Design Challenge #3: Make a model of our classroom using construction paper and tape.  This first part of the challenge is the jumping off point for the design thinking process.  The students will use their first models to build scale models, then after learning from that process, each student will pick a meaningful object to scale up or down and build.

Photos of our Challenges: