They Asked The Questions

Recently I wrote about jazzing up Math class. I was going to have them use real world situations to make the learning more relevant. After writing Ugh, Math, John Stevens suggested having the students come up with the questions. The idea being that they will come up with better questions than I could.

candy We looked at different candies. Here were some of their questions:

  • How many of each candy are there?
  • How much protein in each candy?
  • How much calcium in all the candies?
  • How much does the bag weigh?

There were some pretty great questions that would require a lot of math. We started working out how much the entire bag weighs. We are basing it on the weight of the candy.

John was right, the questions were better and I had instant buy-in to boot! I will definitely be doing more of this.

Ugh, Math

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Math. To me, it’s like a puzzle and I like puzzles. However, that is not the case for many. Most of the time, it’s dry, boring, and disconnected from everyday life – at least that’s how the publishers present it. Which is yet another reason I hate publishers – come on, put some effort into your lessons. Less snazzy pictures – which there really aren’t that many – and more snazzy lessons!

This week I introduced long division to my 5th graders – you all groaned on that one didn’t you? Yeah, not the most interesting Math concept. It’s mostly procedural and very dry. And the publishers… a list of division problems to work out. BORING! Then there are the word problems:

A candy factory produces 9,876 pounds of chocolate in 24 hours. How many pounds to they produce in 1 hour?

Even the person who loves Math, like me, is thinking, “Who cares?” I mean really unless I’m the production manager, I couldn’t care less.

Fortunately, I have been inspired by the likes of La Cucina Matematica (John Stevens and Matt Vaudry) and Andrew Stadel (Estimation 180). They make Math relevant and fun. This is what I want for my students. And coming up with examples of how division can be relevant to my students isn’t THAT hard.

So what am I doing tomorrow in Math? Working with a bag of Halloween Candy. Amazingly, I still have some hanging around the house. Now, I can’t actually bring in a whole bag – which would totally be better (maybe I’ll swing by the store and see what’s on sale); they could manipulate the pieces. But… I sort of ate an embarrassing amount of the bag. Banana Laffy Taffy is a weakness of mine. So I did the next best thing, took a picture of the Nutritional Label – which I didn’t really read based on my consumption of said contents.


That means I can eat 4 pieces of my beloved Banana Laffy Taffy, and that is 1 serving (nice to know). So in a bag of 200 pieces how many are Laffy Taffy? Of that, how many servings of Laffy Taffy are there? It is also important to note that there are 2 flavors of Laffy Taffy. So you can further break it down and figure out roughly how many servings of Banana Laffy Taffy I ate. We could go on to find out how many servings of the candy are in the bag, or how many calories are in 1 Laffy Taffy. We could take the total number of pieces and split them up among all of us.

Is this the most innovative lesson ever? Not even close. Is it better than the dreaded publishers’ nonsense? Absolutely. Lessons like this could go on with items such as Hot Cheetos, chips, Taquis, and anything else the kids are into. I also get to sneak in lessons about serving size and portions.

Success In Math

Did you ever have one of those days, in teaching, where you thought, “YES! This is what it’s all about”? Yeah, I had one of those moments today.

We have been talking about place value and really digging in deep in math. Today we organically began talking about exponents. I say organically because while I’ve touched on the subject before, the students really hadn’t grasped the concept. Yet today, they began making connections. And THAT was super cool! We really only focused on exponents as they relate to the base ten number system. For example 10 x 10 = 100 = 10

This led to one student wondering if exponents “only work” with 10 or does it work with other numbers. We briefly discussed this. Then another student started making connections about the number of zeros and the exponent.

THIS is exactly what Common Core Math is about – looking deeper into the systems and the ‘why’ and discovering the connections and shortcuts. Knowledge IS power!

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Shop ‘Til You Drop

Recently I have begun to incorporate projects more and more into my classroom. The latest was ‘Shop ‘Til You Drop’. This activity gave students real-world experience adding and subtracting decimals (This is a 5th grade Common Core Standard – NBT.7). It also incorporates 4 other Common Core Standards. It was a project that my partner teacher found online. And like any good teacher, I have had time to reflect on the project; take note of what went well, and what I will do differently next time.

Schöne Geschenke
Photo by via wiki commons


What went well:

  • Students begged to work on the project.
  • Students took the assignment seriously.
  • Students asked for help with subtracting across zeros – I need to go back and reteach.
  • Students helped one another solve problems and find gifts.
  • Many quality presentations were made.
  • Many students viewed their project on the TV, seeking feedback.
  • Students took feedback and made adjustments – even after their presentation was given.
  • Templates were used and modified.

Things that need improving:

  • Work space on paper (just to make sure they’re not using a calculator).
  • Rubric/Scale that fits my needs – Marzano based.
  • Give more time. Took longer than I anticipated.
  • Ask what student would do with left over money. While some volunteered this information, many did not. It wasn’t something that I thought about until one student shared her thoughts – she wanted to donate the rest to a charity.

And because I am a firm believer in sharing, here is the lesson – templates included. I have included the NETS-S as well. Feel free to share, modify, and use.