Thursday, 25 April 2013

Smarties / Skittles - Data Analysis and Graphing Project

This idea didn't come from me.  It has been borrowed from a teacher I worked with years ago.  I took her idea and changed it a bit.  I have also adapted it based on whatever I want to teach that year, which makes it great. 

So even though this project may be difficult to connect to the real world and the question math teacher get the most "Why are we doing this", it is a lot of fun for the students.  Yes , it is based on candy which immediately gets their attention. 

I have used this to teach bar graphs, circle graphs, central tendenciesExcel, theoretical and experimental probability and even stem and leaf plots. The kids really seem to enjoy it and are generally interested in the results.

Here are the basics - bring in a box of Smarties or a bag of skittles.  Some students bring in huge family size bags but only an individual package is necessary.  There job is to graph the different colours that occur in the candy package.  Using probability I will ask them the chances of reaching in and grabbing a red one.  Or have them experiment on how often a red one comes out.  Yes it is silly but the kids get into it and learn because of the candy.  The display that they put together will have four graphs. The graphs open up and underneath the student explains the style of graph on top.  The can explain the data or explain the purpose of that style of graph. 

Examples:  I have done this a few times and so there are different styles here

Monday, 22 April 2013

Fraction Know it All - Math Resource

One of the concepts I truly believe in is that you must continue working on important elements of the curriculum all year around.  Working on a unit in math such as fractions at the beginning of the year and then not really focusing on it again until the next year can really bring about difficulties for the students.  That instant recall after not seeing it for a long time is almost impossible for many students.  One of the things that I have tried to bring to my math class is responsibility for all math concepts at any time.  Even though we go through units with specific math themes we also try to work on all the math concepts all year as well.  The way I accomplish this is through the opening minutes of the class.  The warm-up or sponge activity when the students come through the door.  Each day has some kind of different theme.  The following is what my students get every Monday morning when they enter the class.  It is the Fraction Know-It-All and it basically goes over many of the important elements of understanding fractions, decimals and percents and how they are connected. 

Here is the downloadable copy.  Fraction Know It All

At the beginning of the year it takes a little bit of time to teach but because I know that we are going to continue this all year I don't feel the pressure to explain everything all at once.  I have the students show 3 equivalent fractions, the decimal, the percent, draw a diagram of what it should look like and place it on a number line.  I put a student's example below so that you can see the basic results.  I have them do 2 different fractions at a time.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Videos for my math class

Every now and then I come across some Youtube videos that work really well with my class.  These add to the culture and the excitment of learning for the students.  We have a lot of fun with them.  Some of my favourites are below.  I would love to add to them so any sharing here would be great.

Circles:  The best one is here, the students actually now sing this song every time that I even talk about circles.  They love it.  My neighbouring teachers may not like it as much.

This one I can't get to upload nto the page but it is worth clicking on.  I even had a former student email me because they couldn't find this video and wanted the link.  Her email was: I hate math but that song helped me remember.

Second best and was a favourite for a long time.  The kids in my class used to actually sing this one without me even asking them.  They loved the Pi is 3.14 approximately part for some reason. 

Drawing the perfect circle: For some reason my students are just amazed by this and then want to try it.

From one of my favourite math blogs: , she posted this animation that I have used a few times to demonstrate the area of a circle. The students can visually see why Area is 3.14 * radius squared. 

and a second one 


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Investing in the Stock Market - Middle School Math Project

This year I finally went for it and jumped into the stock market.  I know nothing about the stock market and so I told my students I wanted to learn.  We made a project out of it and after consulting friends about how to start we went for the competitve option.  The students had no idea about investing or business so we started by bringing in a guest speaker who talked about what people think about when they are going to invest.  The speaker was actually just a parent of a student in the class and she gave some excellent background information.

At the time we were also learning about integers and graphing and took some time with the students who already had demonstrated that they understood those concepts and brought them to the computer lab to begin researching websites, key terms and tips on how to invest.  They basically became the investment "experts" in our class.  After the others completed their math work on integers we had all the students enter the computer lab and paired them up with the experts.  Students then began teaching students on how to invest.  It was a very good starting point.

I had all the students join onto which allowed them to not have to give away personal information.  They all practiced how to buy stocks and about the rise and fall of the market. 

Through the website I started a contest for the class where they got $10,000 and could invest it however then wanted with the restrictions of the contest and my own criteria where must have bought stocks in at least 3 different companies. 

And it was on!  Students were checking there stocks constantly, at nutrition break and lunch times you could hear students talking about their investments.  We continued going to the computer lab to do more research and students were eager to see how they could make more money.  I included at $5 dollar transaction fee and the students were angry with me because they thought it unfair but I told them that we are trying to make it as real as we could.  Some students held onto investments while others became  day traders and were constantly updating their account.  It was pretty cool to watch students so eager.  Some of the students were quite funny in that they were refreshing their portfolio every couple of minutes for the update of their account. 

The students learned about graphing, net gain and loss, percent gain and loss, and how hard it is to make money on the stock market.  Some students learned that you have to spend money to make it as they had $10,000 but only spent a small portion of it and couldn't keep up with the others.  Some spent all the money on some big name companies while others threw darts.  It was very interesting but in the end the one who did the most research actually made the most by investing in companies that were trending up as well as short selling stocks too.  In a month she made over $1500 which was pretty impressive.

Here is the criteria I gave them, please post comments on how it worked for you or if you changed what I did.  I would love to know. 

If you want to just download the criteria sheets I made go here:  Market Research

Friday, 12 April 2013

Mandala - Middle School Math Project

When trying to have my students work with circles and understand them one of the challenges that comes up is how to use the tools in the geometry kit.  The compass especially is challenging for the students as many of them have cheap ones and don't really have an idea how to use it.  I decided to create something that made them use the compass.  Enter the mandala.  This project brings in patterns, circles and creativity.  They make an excellent display and can be done in Art class if you want even though I did it in Math.  They link into Tibetan culture for a Social Studies aspect as well.

The Mandala is supposed to be meditative and so I also try to have the students relax while they create.  Having the students practice drawing circles on a blank page is a good way to start because they need the practice in making the circles as perfect as they can.

The mandala is supposed to start from the center so I get the student to start by drawing smaller circles and then just try to get them to create from there.  Even though they are supposed to flow I try to have my students use the tools from their geometry set as part of the process.  This video definitely helps them visualize.

Here are a couple of examples that I have:

 I had the students also try to name the mandala and explain what it means to them.  The students enjoyed this, especially the ones who are not so fond of math because it is more of an Art project in their mind.  It did though begin to bring them into math a bit and find some strengths in the math class. 

Here is the criteria sheet that I gave them which also has a great website on how to draw mandalas.  I used some of their resources while making adaptations for some of my special needs students.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Student Led Conference - Community Dinner

I am straying away from the usual math ideas I have put on here and putting a comment about one of the hilights of this year. 

We are told every year that we have a night where we put on Student Led Conferences.  Over the years I have watched students guide their parents through their work.  Many of the parents have already seen their work and are a part of the process of completing it and others see the work and either congratulate or criticize their child on it and then they all walk out together.  Many of the families are in a rush because there are sports or other events to get to.  Usually the Student Led Conference ends up being a forgettable event in the school year.

This year we (there are two classrooms joined together) decided to make this more of an event for our class.  We asked the parents to come and stay for dinner as part of the conference.  It was a potluck that we asked for parents to either send in the food in the morning or just show up with the food.  We really didn't know what to expect but this turned into a great and memorable night.  Our organization for this was no more than a note home a few days before the conference night and buying some food to get the event started.  We had a general idea that a few parents to going to take part and were actually worried for a while that it was going to be a flop.  Instead here is what happened quite organically.

Parents began bringing in food and adding to our table.  Not only parents came in but generally the whole family came as well.  We didn't organize this but suddenly my room became the conference room while my partners class became the eating and play area.  Parents sat and chatted with other parents , students played different games with each other and their siblings.  Some families stayed for over an hour and just talked about current events or common interests.  They casually would go through their child's work and then go back to eat some more or to just relax.  Dinner plans were done so parents were far more relaxed.  Even the families that had sporting events and had to leave appreciated that they didn't have to worry about dinner for their family and could now go off to the activity.  We actually had parents from other classes in the school coming by and asking about what we were doing.  When the conference time was up it was actually a bit disappointing to leave instead of the "glad this is over" feeling that can happen. 

The overall feeling of this was one that I will always remember and the food that arrived was diverse and delicious.  For the amount of effort that we put in (minimal) it was a great night.  I am not sure if I would do it any other way from now on and I see it getting better every year and a tradition gets started.

Just an idea that may not be inivative but interesting anyway.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Designing a hotel Update - Middle school math project

Working on projects with students is always a lot of fun but you  have to be prepared to change things as you go.  The class that I am working with is doing the Design a Hotel project that I posted.  As I stated in that post that this is a new project for me and so I have already come across some difficulty.  I updated that post already but want to make a new post so that anyone who has already looked at it will get the update.

We originally told the students that they would be making a 3D model of the hotel and I was really excited by the prospect of what this would look like.  Unfortunately after working with my students I found that the idea of this limited their creativity.  The prospect of building became overwhelming for them and they were deciding to make their ideas simple so that they could easily build it.  So instead we decided to take that part away (actually made it optional or some students are making a 3D rendering on the computer instead) and the ideas of what could be in this hotel exploded.   We also gave the students a chance to work with a partner after they generated their original ideas and the project has become that much better.  Here is the new updated sheet I gave them so that they could split the work evenly.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Becoming an Abacist - Middle School Math Project

I start the most years with numeration and understanding the number system.  I found that they enjoy starting the year with a project and get right into it.  I thought of this one summer and shared the idea with a few teachers (strangely a friend of mine thought of the same idea and planned the same project without us sharing it).  The idea is that we build an abacus or actually we made a soroban and learned out to use it properly. 

We used some youtube videos to help understand the sorobans and the students went to work making the abacus.

We used beads and thread and different shoeboxes but many of them turned out to be too big to use well.  The successful ones were made from box tops or lids and a few students used wooden skewers instead of thread.  I will post pictures of examples soon.

My friend used a popsicle stick method and was happy with those.

In designing and creating them the students were suddenly also using some measurement as well to put it together.  It was quite fun watching how the students built there own. 

The biggest benefit of using this project was that the students started to understand what base 10 measnt because of the nature of the abacus.  We also worked on adding and subtracting with an abacus and the students began naturally understanding why we line up the columns when using these operations.

Here is the criteria sheet that I gave the students: It is also free at my  TPT link:


Friday, 5 April 2013

Problem solving instructions with cartoons

Every year in problem solving I begin with this sheet on how to problem solve and my general expectations.  We go over the sheet and have fun doing it.  I get the kids to interpret the cartoons and how they relate to problem solving.  They always enjoy them.  I found the comics on the internet quite a few years ago and tried to find them again but couldn't.  I wish I could give credit to the sources but at least the signature of the artists are on the comics. 

We then do a problem together so that they can see my expectations but in general I want to understand their thinking.  I ask them to let me know the strategy or strategies that they used, show the work (which sometimes means reorganizing it so that I understand it), and then give a proper answer.  Strategy, Work , Answer are my expectations and the kids don't find it too hard or onerous that they won't do it. 

We also add to the strategies list as we work through problems throughout the year but these strategies are a good starting point and allow me to demonstrate how they are used.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Supporting a Family - Middle School Math project

This project idea came out of trying to have awareness for needy families.  I have tried different versions of this project many times and have had success in every way with it.  The students really love this project.  They get the chance to bring in advertisements, catalogs and flyers as well as shopping online.  They really enjoy the challenge of trying to shop for a family and helping them out.  I have done this around Christmas time with a lot of success.  The students learn about adding, subtracting and multiplying with decimals, staying within a budget and about how much presents cost during the holiday season.  We also added in pricing out all the materials for Christmas dinner and this year actually took our classes to the local grocery store to price it all out.  The people working there were awesome and taught our kids about what gets taxed and what doesn't.    What I genreally do is create many different types of needy families and make some more challenging than others and then selectively distribute them to the kids. 

The displays and creativity of the procjects coming in have been amazing.  Christmas trees, stockings, prezis, powerpoints, posters, mock presents have all been parts of projects recieved during this project.  I have also been amazed at how seriously most students take this and often have them come to me with coupons and deals that they have found.  I usually accept all of them but the students have to show the calculations on how much savings there are.

Here is one of the criteria sheets I give.  All the criteria sheets are here

Monday, 1 April 2013

Middle School Math Project - Geometric Robot

I was looking for a way to build things with my kids because I had a few students who were quite skilled at it.  I don't remember if I made this one up or if I got the idea from somewhere but I know for sure that if I did borrow this idea I changed some things for the kids in my class.  The general idea is that we are sending up a robot to a different planet and need to build something with storage.  I had the students build robots by either giving them some nets or they designed it themselves.  Paper or cardboard was used by most of the students but a few also went to the school's  shop and built their ideas with wood.  They learned about different geometric solids, area and volume.  They had to draw out their plans and then try to build it.  The students really enjoyed this project and it was pretty easily adaptable for advanced learners as well as struggling learners. 

Here is the criteria sheet that I gave them: