Math

Sort It Out

 Last week I had the privilege of presenting a session at a STEM education conference here in Indiana.  Now, whenever I go to a conference, I enjoy doing hands-on activities. And I don’t like sitting through sales-pitches. You know the ones that show you a bunch of awesome ideas, only to find out that to actually do any of those activities, you need to purchase the kits that cost thousands of dollars each? Instant downer since there is a 1% chance my school will ever be able to afford it. So I created a session where I shared a few STEM/Engineering Design activities that could be used in many different classrooms, on a very low budget, any time of the year.

I’m not sure I should say this, but I was shocked at the number of people that wanted to attend my session. We filled up the large conference room! I would like to believe this was because my session description was so intriguing. Or maybe it is because most teachers want quick, easy ideas that are still awesome. However, it probably did help that right next store the conference was giving out snacks during the break and I was the closest session…

Sort It Out Activity

One of the activities I shared was Sort It Out. This is a great way introduction to engineering design for your students. I have tried it with as young as 3rd graders and as old as adults! It can be easily adapted or changed to fit the needs of your classroom.

The original idea for this came from tryengineering.com . This link will take you to the activity that has a the full lesson plan pdf, student worksheets, and a powerpoint! Background research about how coins are made and sorted is included which can be a great extension.

Although all of these are very helpful resources, I often like to make my own worksheets that are less wordy and allow more space for students to work. When I originally did this lesson for 3rd graders, I had to adapt it quite a bit. Here is the Sort it Out pdf worksheet that I have used in the past!

The idea behind this is that there are a bunch of coins that got mixed up and a device needs to be created in order to sort these coins. 

Here is the prompt I use:

Mrs. O’s coins are all mixed up! She needs them separated easily in order to use the coins for different things in class. Can you help design a sorting mechanism that will make the job easier?

The materials I use for this are:

  • Cups
  • Construction Paper
  • Toilet Paper tubes
  • Cardboard
  • Foam board
  • Plates
  • String
  • Felt
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Again, these materials can be flexible – use what you have! For example, sometimes I use plates, sometimes I don’t. I don’t always have all these materials on hand, so I simply switch it up. It keeps kids creative!

Students first plan out their ideas individually and sketch everything out. Then, students are 

placed into groups and come up with one team design. If you are doing this in younger grade levels, it can be helpful to plan out roles for each group member. For example, one person might be the “Materials Director” and the one in charge of getting materials and recording what is used. Another might be the “Time Manager” or the “Spokesperson” for the group. This way, each member knows how to contribute to the group’s project.

Students then design and build their device! Obviously, you can limit the amount of time they have to work on each part. When coin sorting devices are ready to test, simply give each group a handful of coins and ask them to demonstrate!

Adaptations and Extensions

  • Only use quarters and dimes – using the largest and smallest coins may help younger students out. By using all four coins, you can challenge your students!
  • Time how long it takes for the device to sort a certain number of coins. Whose can sort a certain amount of coins the fastest?
  • Connect this to math by discussing diameter, circumference, or mass

The adults at the conference loved this idea. I even had some good devices created during the session, like this one! The point is to make it your own for your class and get those coins sorted!

Calculating Speed Activity

Need to practice calculating speed in your classroom? How about using toys?

My students had recently learned the formula for calculating speed. We had completed several practice problems and I knew my students could do the math on paper. However, finding and comparing speeds in real life is much more fun! I thought about using marbles and rolling them down ramps, but that has been done – not very exciting. After another quick online search, I got the idea to calculate the speeds of different toys that could move by themselves. Loved it!

Because I happen to have an almost three year old boy in the house, I knew I could come up with several self-propelled toys. After talking my son into letting me borrow a few toys for the day, he helped me grab the following:

  • Thomas the Train
  • Percy the Train
  • A Shark Airplane
  • A Big Red Car
  • A Little Red Car
  • I also had this lovely wind up toy already in my classroom, which I tell the students is me in my bumper car!

Some of these toys were pull back, others had buttons to turn them on and off. Both worked well!

The other materials needed were:
  • Metersticks
  • Stopwatches
  • Optional tape for start and stop lines
Procedure

First, I placed students in groups of three or four. Each group would get one toy to test at a time and we would rotate the toys. I made sure that each group tested at least 4 toys total.

Once a group received their toy, they had to decided if they wanted to measure the toy for a certain distance, or just until it stopped. Students then timed their toys and measured the distance the toy traveled for that time. With this data, they calculated the speeds of each toy.

Once students had completed four toys, we came back together as a group and compared the speeds. Groups shared their slowest toys. Since not everyone tested every toy, we then compared the actual speeds of each to determine which one was truly the slowest. The bumper car wind up toy definitely took its time! Although there were a few different ideas on which was the fastest toy, most concluded that the Big Red Car won! A few had the Little Red Car at higher speeds. Some believed this was because it was pulled back extra far for these tests!

The fastest toy!

Students had a great time testing each of the toys! And I had a great time watching them comparing the speeds and doing the calculations correctly!

Percent Change Race!

 I am always looking for math activities that take minimal prep time yet still are engaging and useful for my students. Recently, my 7th grade math students studied percent change. After a day of learning how to set up these types of problems and do the math, I wanted something more exciting to get students to understand more meaning behind the numbers. Luckily, I stumbled upon this from Hands on Math and instantly knew it would be perfect! Students would “race” themselves to see the percent change difference between running on two feet and running on one foot.

The day I planned to do this activity with my students, it was cold and drizzling on and off outside. I asked my students if they were still interested, and they all said “YES!” So, we ventured out into the chilly, wet world and raced ourselves!

I partnered up the students and gave each pair a stopwatch. The school’s drive through area was the perfect place to race because we already had large

Our racing lane

orange cones set up (we don’t have buses so this is where students get dropped off and picked up).  I simply showed students where our start line and end line were (about 40-50 meters apart) and then had students start racing! One person stood at the finish line and timed their partner. The first runner ran on two feet and recorded the time it took to do so. This would be the “original” time. Then, they went back and tried to run/hop on one foot. This time would be the changed time. After a student was done with both races, the partners switched.

We did not have even numbers in class, so I ended up being partnered with one of the students. I will say, I was pretty quick on the two feet race, but terribly at racing on one foot. I was probably the slowest person! However, the neat thing about this activity is students didn’t get very self conscious, because they were not really racing each other. The only other person that knew their time was their partner. There was a little bit of competition between partners, but overall, students really were competitive against themselves!

After we had all raced, we went inside to calculate the percent of change. We briefly discussed whether we had a percent increase or decrease of time. Every person’s time got slower (took more time) and so we agreed that everyone had a percent increase. Next, students had to compare their percent of change. Some students had times that were not too far from each other, and so their percent of change was lower than others. I am proud to say that my percent increase was the largest of the entire class – I had 189% increase in times! I need to work on my one leg running skills…

All you need for this activity is:

  • Worksheet to record times
  • Stopwatch
  • Something to mark start and finish lines

Instructions:

  1. Mark out a starting line and a finish line
  2. Have on student from each partner pair ready at the finish line. Their partner is at the start.
  3. Students time how long it takes their partners to run the distance on two feet and record the time.
  4. They repeat this, except the runner now must “run” (hop) the same course on one foot.
  5. The runner and the timer switch places and repeat steps 3 and 4
  6. Partners record all times then work together to calculate the percent change between the races.
  7. Compare and discuss the percent of change they find!

Have fun running!

Tech Tools to Use in the Classroom

Even though school is out, I have been busy attending conferences and prepping to present at one myself! The first conference I attended was an eLearning conference for our school district. This is the second time I’ve attended this conference. Both times, I’ve left with about 5 million ideas but an overwhelming sense of knowing there is no way I can implement them all!

After going through my notes, my goal is to take two or three of the ideas I found and try them this coming year. If I can do more, great! However, I would rather do a few things well then just try to cram everything in at once.

Here are the tech tools that made the top of my list! And I must mention that they are all free! I will definitely be trying these out once school starts again. Feel free to do the same!

Desmos and Desmos classroom 

I actually had previously stumbled upon this website during the semester and loved it. After hearing more about it at the conference, I know I will utilize it more in my math classes! Lessons are already prepared on the site and include a variety of topics. Students are able to work at their own pace through the lesson answering questions and completing tasks. Questions require students to think and respond with sentences as well, so you can see their thought process as well. Teachers are able to monitor each student’s progress as well! I loved the fact that I could see who was struggling or not staying on task right from my computer! Whether a student needs extra practice or enrichment, Desmos can help!

Sample question for inequalities lesson

Quizlet Live  

Maybe you, like me, had already heard of Quizlet. I’ve had students use this app for a few years as an option to study their vocabulary words in science class. Students type in words and definitions, then can play review games such as matching, guess the word, etc. I’ve noticed that those students that have used Quizlet typically end up performing better on any vocabulary assessments.

The people at Quizlet really amped it up for Quizlet Live and made it a whole classroom experience!  Students are randomly placed in groups and given an animal name. Why an animal? I have no idea, but being a Siberian Tiger or a Bald Eagle makes it that much more exciting! Each student must have a device within the group. The groups then must work together to find correct terms for the given definition. Since different terms are listed on different group member’s devices, everyone must participate in order for the group to finish first. What a great way to increase vocabulary proficiency!

Quizziz

This game is very similar to Kahoot  (which I have used many times and love!). The difference though, is that students can go at their own pace and do the questions by themselves. You do not need to project one question at a time on the screen. The students still can compete against each other and see their scores (which is what they love about Kahoot). You can use the quizzes that are already on the site, or you can make your own. Adapt the quiz for whatever subject you need and use it for review, pretesting or just for fun!

Start screen for Quizziz

Commonsense.org   

Students truly need to understand how to become responsible digital citizens. How do we teach this? First of all, make sure we as educators are being good role models. Sometimes we assume students know how to be responsible in this area simply because they know how to work the apps and tools. Commonsense.org has developed several lessons for the classroom that hit on many areas of digital citizenship for all grade levels including strategic searching, cyberbullying, and copyright issues. The lessons include videos and activity ideas that you can download as pdf files. There is even a “Digital Compass game where students choose what to do in a scenario and see the consequences of that choice. I have used bits and pieces of this in the past, but think I should do more with my middle schoolers.

 

So take a look! Maybe one of these will become your favorite tech tools this coming year too!

Trashketball – A Great Review Game for Any Subject!

A trash can, paper, and review questions are the only things you need to make “Trashketball” work!

It’s March Madness season. Anyone else get into this time of year? I love filling out my bracket in the hopes of predicting the most correct, and then quickly become disappointed when my teams lose. But that is the greatness of the tournament!

Both teachers and students get very into the games here at our Indiana school. Our PE teacher randomly assigns each class to a few teams in the tournament. If that time wins the whole thing, the class gets to do a special activity of their choosing. The teachers are in a pool where the winner gets a gift card (or maybe even their recess duties covered for a week!) I let the my middle school students fill out one and the top 5 or so overall get to have ice cream sundaes after lunch one day. It definitely makes watching the tournament a fun experience!

Teachers have also been incorporating basketball into their curriculum as well. A 5th grade teacher did an inquiry lab on how the angle of the backboard affects your shot percentage. Another teacher in the lower grades has a bulletin board set up in the hallway about Indiana basketball history. What a fun way to connect students to content!

Because spring break was fast approaching, I needed some review games. Often I will use Kahoot (which kids love!) but I was inspired by some crazy basketball games over the weekend to do something different. Trashketball was a game from my own middle school memories and I was super excited to bring it back to my classroom!

All you need to do this review game is the following:
  • A set of questions that can be answered in a few words (or numbers)
  • A trashcan
  • A bunch of slips of paper

I used this for my math class, so I copied down a bunch of problems that I could project on the screen. Students had calculators and scratch paper to help them.

To set up the game:
  1. Prepare questions to give to students. The best way to do this is to have questions ready to display somewhere that all students can see at once.
  2. Cut up paper into small squares. Have a lot of paper ready (you can always use the extras for next time!)
  3. Place a trash can (I use a smaller can) in the middle of the room, and students place their desks or chairs in a circle around the can. It is up to you how far students are from the can. Farther away makes the game a little more challenging! Make sure students sit equal distance from the can and no one has a huge advantage.
Here is how to play the game:
  1. Students see a problem on the screen and have time to figure out the answer (depending on the question, I gave them between 30 seconds and 1 minute) and write their answer on a slip of paper with their name on it.
  2. Once the time was up, I would tell the students, “Shoot!”During this time, students would crumple up their slips of paper into mini “basketballs” and shoot their answers into the can.
    1. Students may NOT stand up or move around during this time. I told them their “bums” needed to stay in the seats!
  3. I gave 30 seconds for students to “shoot” their answers. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Students can shoot as many slips of paper with their answers on it as they can in that 30 seconds
    2. Students can shoot up to a certain amount (like 3) in a round.
  4. When shooting time is over, the teacher grabs the can and looks through all the papers that actually made it in. Any correct answer receives one point. Incorrect answers get zero points.
  5. Students keep track of their own points and whoever has the most at the end wins!

There are other versions of this game out on Pinterest. Here is a link to another version that sounds great too!  Mrs. E Teaches Math has great ideas, so be sure to check out the rest of the blog.

Students loved the game and already have requested to play it again! It was fun, engaging, and helped students review how to do their math problems! It does create a little craziness in the classroom, but hey, it’s March Madness!

Puff Mobiles – A quick STEM activity.

It’s been a blustery few weeks here in Indiana. We have gone from a balmy February to a mild start to March, but as we approach spring break, it has been cold! All this up and down in temperatures has caused some extremely windy days. Like trees blowing over, branches falling, be careful when you go outside windy days! In fact, it is snowing today, but the forecast shows temps in the mid 50s in a few days. Welcome to Indiana.

On one of those days, after the wind was howling through the night, I decided to introduce Puff Mobiles to my elective class. This activity is easy to set up, and the students love it. Before introducing the activity, I do a brief overview of wind and wind power with my students. We discuss how wind generates electricity and the wind turbine (we have lots of these in our area!) We also recall how it was used for ships and boats as the first modes of transportation.

Then we get to the fun part–the Puff Mobile.

Goal:

Students must design a vehicle that uses wind power from their own mouths to puff or blow their creation to the finish!The wind background info isn’t completely necessary for this one (but I like to include it), and it doesn’t really have a prompt or standard that it aligns perfectly with. But it is fun, works on engineering concepts and is easy to implement!

There are relatively few supplies needed, which makes it easy to prepare on short notice!

Each student (or student group) receives the following materials:
  • 3 Straws
  • 2 Paper clips
  • 4 Peppermint Lifesavers
  • One sheet of paper
  • Tape (I limited the tape to about 50 cm so students don’t go crazy!)

Not all supplies must be used, but may no other supplies may be included.

Students get 3-4 minutes to plan out and sketch a design before actual construction. I do encourage students to stick as close to their sketch as possible. They are allowed to cut the straws and paper. Paper clips can be bent and twisted however students think necessary. Students can even color their paper if you have time! Construction takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on how much time you have!).

Once all was constructed, we set up a Puff Mobile tournament! We pushed the tables and chairs to the side of the room so we had a lot of open space down the middle. I drew brackets on the board (March Madness style) and pulled names out of a cup so students were randomly matched up. A start line and finish line are necessary, and the race can be as long or as short as you want!

Some rules we establish for the Puff Mobile Races:
  1. During racing, the vehicles must start and remain (as much as possible) on the ground. AKA – not paper airplanes.
  2. There is absolutely NO intentional moving, blowing, hitting, kicking, etc of another mobile in order to advance your own.
  3. As audience members, students may cheer and encourage, but may not touch or get in the way of anyone in the race.
  4. The teacher is the final judge. If mobiles somehow get stuck in the corner or turned, I can tell them to pick it up, turn it around or to “unstick” it.

I think it is hilarious watching the kids belly crawl across the floor, trying to puff their mobiles all the way across the finish line!

Kids have a blast, AND my floors are much cleaner after the races!

Happy Homework Chart – How to encourage students to do their homework without grading every assignment

I currently teach five DIFFERENT classes everyday. I have three levels of science class and two levels of math. Five different preps in a seven period day. The other periods are not always free periods either. They are filled with recess and lunch duties, covering for study halls, IEP meetings, and all the other random stuff that pulls you away from the classroom and prepping for classes. Because of this, I don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on grading. I especially don’t have time to grade every single little assignments students have. Even with small class sizes (which I have this year), just grading math homework would take a lot of my “free” time. However, I assign math homework almost every day!

I think math is one of those classes, though, that students need to practice in order to understand what they learned. Often, we do not have enough time in our short class periods to get enough practice in. Therefore, students typically have math homework to take home and finish.

So then we have a dilemma! Students must complete their math homework, but most catch on quickly that they are not asked to turn it in everyday. When you teach middle school students, this is a recipe for disaster! In their minds, not turning something in = don’t have to do it. I needed a way to encourage students to complete their daily assignments without overloading myself with grading.

Enter the “Happy Homework Chart”. During my student teaching stint, a cooperating teacher did something similar to this and I loved the idea. It is a simple way to use positive peer pressure and encourage students to complete their assignments! 

How it works:
  1. At the beginning of every class, students are to take out their homework. While they are working on an intro question or warm up, I walk around the room and check for completion only.
  2. If ALL the students in the class have the assignment completed, we get two stickers on our chart! If only ONE student misses, I still give the students one sticker.
  3. Once students reach 20 stickers (fills one column), the entire class gets a reward!

I call it the Happy Homework Chart because I use happy face stickers. Pick whatever stickers that you like best! To make your own chart, use Excel or Word and create an empty table or chart with however many boxes you would like.

You can also choose whatever reward fits for you and your class. I actually have different “levels” of rewards for each quarter.

Level 1

If students get the first column completed in a semester, I bring in a snack (usually cookies, brownies, etc) sometime during the next week. Food is such a motivator! Just the idea of receiving a cookie gets these students motivated.

Level 2

A second completed column in a semester means I bring in a snack AND students get to play math games instead of a regular lesson.

Level 3

If students can manage to get one more column (or more) completed during a semester, I bring in a snack AND we do no math. Instead we watch a movie, play outside, or do something else fun to celebrate.

I was a little worried when I first introduced this because I thought I would have to bring in snacks every other week. However, there are very few days when every single student does their homework, even with this system. It typically takes about 4-5 weeks before we complete a column (sometimes more or less depending on if there is an assignment everyday or not), so it is definitely manageable. You can always adjust the amount of stickers needed to complete a column.

A Few Other Things to Keep in Mind:
  1. Sometimes students try to quickly fill in numbers right before I walk around to make it look like they finished it. Usually I can tell by looking at their homework if they did this, and if that occurs, no stickers are given, even if everyone else had it done… this usually discourages the problem from happening again any time soon.
  2. I don’t count absences as incompletes. If a student did not receive the assignment because they are absent, it doesn’t count against the class.
  3. Students sometimes have questions or are confused on one or two problems in an assignment. They occasionally don’t do those problems because we always review questions on the homework at the start of class. I often have to use good judgment if they simply did not understand, or if they just did not complete the homework and are trying to pull it off as “I didn’t get it!” I typically tell students to TRY and do something and not leave it blank.

This system has worked well for me, and most days students will at least get one sticker. A quick walk around the classroom takes little time and we can move on to questions. If I want students to hand in the homework, I collect the assignment after my walk through.

I know other teachers have many different methods for encouraging their students in their homework. If you have something that works well for you, I would love to hear it!

Happy Homeworking!

Triangle Coloring – Making beautiful artwork while classifying triangles!

Does anyone have one of those new coloring books that are totally cool? Filled with awesome designs, these books encourage you to just sit and color. In fact, studies suggest that coloring helps relieve stress and improve relaxation. I would agree. I like to sit and color while sitting on the couch or watching tv. Which is why I came up with this lesson for my students!

We are working through our geometry unit right now in both my seventh and eighth grade classes. Lots of angles, triangles and other polygons going on! I wanted to do something a little different than just a regular worksheet and take a break from our normal routine of class. I was browsing Pinterest (what else is new) and saw a picture of a whole bunch of shapes in different colors; shapes that could be used as artwork on walls. Immediately,an idea popped into my head! Math + art = awesome!

My seventh graders had just learned to classify triangles by their angles and sides. I decided to take triangles, and have students make them into cool designs while still practicing their classifying skills!

Triangle Coloring

Only a pencil, ruler, paper and colors were necessary for this activity.

Students drew lines across the page using their pencils and made several triangles. I warned students to not draw TOO many triangles because that might make way too much work for them later.

Next, students identified triangles on their page as scalene, isosceles or equilateral. They traced each type in a different color of their choosing, being sure to put their color choices on a key.

Finally, students shaded in each triangle according to the angles. Obtuse, acute and right triangles each received their own color. Colors used should also be recorded on the key.

The class loved the project. After I gave instructions, the class was quiet for several minutes, not because I told them to be, but because they were so focused on their triangles! Designs turned out really neat. I’m thinking a new bulletin board display is coming…!

Mathonopoly – Solving Equations Game

I can’t take any credit for this one, but I had to share. I recently stumbled upon this gem of a review game. My 7th graders have been learning how to solve one and two step equations. Solving equations can be difficult for some students. Practice, practice and more practice helps! And who doesn’t like a game?

Before I gave students a quiz on these concepts, I wanted to do some review. I feel lucky to have found this… and it is free! You can find the game here  and download it as a powerpoint for free. Again, I did not make this and cannot take credit for it, but HAD to share such a creative activity.

I couldn’t find exact rules listed, so I just made them up based on what parts there are and the rules I know from Monopoly, which I share below. You can definitely adjust these to better fit your class!

Preparations:

I made four different sets so my whole class could play at the same time, and 3 to 4 people can play with one set. Before my students played, I had to cut out all the pieces (not fun) and put them all individually through the laminator (even more not fun!).  I do love a good lamination, but our machine NEVER works properly so it is always a gamble – are you going to get a nicely laminated product, or a ruined mess of melted plastic and 30 minutes of your precious prep time gone? Luckily, the machine was in a good mood for me that day! And, I had students with no homework to finish in a study hall, so I made them my card cutting slaves for the period. Awesome!

 

Setting up the game:

Each group receives a board, Chance cards, Community Chest cards and a set of “Property” cards, a set of dice, and whatever playing pieces you want to use (I used chess pieces because I have them in my classroom!)

Students stack the sets of Chance and Community Chest cards in the designated places. The property cards are set to the side in an organized way.

Students also need score sheets. Using blank sheets of paper worked well for me, but you may want to come up with a quick score sheet. I started each student with 25 points. No money is necessary in this version of the game!

Answer sheets can either be distributed to each group, but I decided to hold on to one, and when students solved the equation, they called me over to check. This way, one student would not be able to see the answers ahead of time and know the correct response without trying to solve it first.

Instructions:

To play the game, students roll the dice (you can do one or two) and move their pieces across the board, just like in Monopoly.

When they land on a property space, students must solve the equation correctly in order to “buy” the property. If another student then lands on that property space, they must give the “rent”  in their points to the owner. Rent amount is the same as the number listed at the top of each property.

The rest of the game is played very similarly to the real Monopoly. However, I did not do anything for when they landed on railroads or Free Parking. Maybe you have an idea for these spaces? Let me know!

Ending the game:

I stopped the class when we only had a few minutes left. Students did not want to stop playing! We determined the winner by who had the most points at the end. I guess you could keep playing until one person has all the points, but just like in real Monopoly, that might take days and days!

It was a blast and the students got tons of practice with solving equations of all different difficulty levels! Thanks dannytheref for such an awesome idea!