A few weeks ago, Dan Meyer (http://blog.mrmeyer.com/ like you didn't know...) gave an online talk about being less helpful and his WCYDWT. (http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/e/1450) I decided to immediately try to incorporate some of those ideas in an algebra class the very next day where we were going over word problems with formulas.
What I came up with was two questions, one given explicitly and one implied in a picture. The first one was "How fast does Mr. Sweeney drive to work?" Granted there was no piece of media attached to this, but it was an accessible question that every kid had an opinion on, and every kid wanted to know the answer to.
"Mr. Sweeney is young, I bet he drives really fast!"
"Is there traffic?"
"He must take the highway, I bet it's like 65!"
"The highway doesn't right from his house to school, so it must be lower" etc.
I wrote down each student's individual guess and told them there would be a piece of candy for the closest (I'm not above bribes). My goal was to "Be less helpful" so I was determined to only tell them where I live. They figured out they needed to use D=RT and know how long it takes and how far it is. They kept asking questions trying to get me to do work for them, and I resisted answering. Eventually, they realized I wasn't going to budge and someone suggested to go to google maps.(Which gave both time and distance) We came to the answer, and then I told them how long it actually takes me(there's *always* traffic on the expressway!) and we solved again and I was happy.
Next, I showed them these pictures:
All I told them (When they asked) was that I am exactly 6 feet tall. The question we decided on was "How far across the wall can I paint?" ("How many cans of paint would it take?" was the first question, but I insisted there was only one can in the picture so we saved that for afterwards) To answer the question, they:
Enlarged the picture on the smartboard so they could see how much the can holds.
Figured out they'd need the formula for area of a rectangle solved for width.
Copied and pasted the picture putting my feet on my head to figure out the height of the wall.
Went to Behr.com to find out the range of areas you can paint a gallon of interior-semi gloss paint.
Converted from gallons to quarts.
Solved for the minimum and maximum distance across the wall that the paint would cover.
Measured the back wall and found how many cans of paint they would need.
They also came up with a lot of other ideas that we could've done if we had other tools or information ("Let's measure the height of the wall" "Alright, who has measuring tape?") It was a lot of fun, and they really got into the lesson. The best part was that a number of kids who don't usually participate at all were brimming with excitement and ideas. It was so successful that I decided to call an audible on my second class and do the same activity with them too.
What kind of things like this have you done in your classroom?
I generally do this lesson after I've taught solving equations entirely. At that point there are at least a few students that get really overwhelmed by the process, and I've found that this helps them to break it down into steps (and to actually remember what those steps are) and it's just a heck of a lot of fun for everyone.
The day before the lesson I tell students that their homework is to remember to NOT bring their bookbags to class the next day. (Otherwise we wouldn't have room). At the beginning of the period, I race to get all the desks stacked on the sides of my room to clear a nice dance area for everyone. Then, I give them this speech:
"Today is a math fun day. I *absolutely* guarantee that if you don't act "too cool" for this lesson that you'll have fun. In fact, this will most likely be the most fun you ever have in math class!" Cutting the too cool kids off at the pass right up front has always worked for me, and was my biggest fear before ever doing this lesson. (I also tell them participation is mandatory) I then stick my arms out and swing them back and forth and tell them that they need to be able to do that without hitting anyone so they have space. I start the beat, and sing the intro, then put the lyrics on the board with the smart screenshade hiding the moves we haven't done yet.
From there, the lesson goes pretty much like this:
After they are able to do the dance with some proficiency, I speed it up 10% and keep speeding it up each successive time until it all ultimately falls apart. Then, I have them grab a desk and go get their backpacks and work on a sheet of difficult equations to solve, telling them to think about the song as the go along. When they ask questions, I pretty much just prompt them with song lyrics.
Here are some important tips:
You should definitely try this lesson if at all reasonable. I'm fairly certain you could throw this lesson inside 179 other days of teaching like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day off and kids would still think your class was fun.
The video is only 3:49, but the dance part of the lesson actually takes me 15 minutes (and an extra few moving desks out and back in). So, if you are to use the video above to teach the lesson I would highly suggest pausing and going back a lot to give kids time to really learn it.
I'd suggest writing the lyrics on a side board even though they are in the video so that it's easier for the kids to follow.
If you use the instructional video, I would still highly suggest doing the dance along with them. If you are too cool to dance, they probably will be too.
Call them out as a group if some kids aren't singing along, I think sometimes they honestly get so wrapped up in the dance they think they are singing along when they aren't.
Have some sweet moves prepared for the check portion.(I like the lawnmower or the shopping cart)