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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Metamorphosis of an Idea

I have been making an attempt to make my existing lessons and activities more mathematically meaningful.  I think I made some progress last week when we were working on fraction/decimal/percent connections in two of my classes.  In the past I had students go to the gym and shoot a particular number of baskets and collect the data for makes and attempts and turn that data into a fraction, a decimal, and a percent.  It was fun, but didn't generate too much reasoning or meaning for the amount of time it took.

Last week, I had each of the eight students in an occupational math class create an activity that involved successful and unsuccessful attempts.  We landed on the playground doing creative things such as throwing a ball at a bowl on a spinning merry-go-round.  The students collected the data for their own events and then were to return to the classroom to determine the fraction, decimal, and percent that represented the successes of each participant.  In theory, this activity should have worked, but I was getting little math out of it until we started bouncing a tennis ball at the basketball hoop.  I told each student to see how many makes they could get in 9 tries.  The first student start and missed, but a voice said 0 for 1.  I responded, "What percent is that?" The other students replied zero.  The student tried again and made it.  He said, "1 for 2, hey that's 50%"  The activity finally morphed into something helpful as the students determined the percent after each attempt and made the connection about how one fraction/percent related to the next.  One student even stated, "It makes a lot of sense once you calculate the percent after each try."

The next hour I decided to try a similar activity with my 7th graders, but I knew it would be chaos for them to create their own challenges so I set up 8 activities throughout the room (one for each student).  I had each student create a grid to collect their attempts and successes.  I initially told them how many attempts they should have for each activity, assigned them to their first station, and told them to go.  After about 15 seconds I realized that my students needed a little more structure because some did their trials very quickly and were sitting down staring at me and others were leisurely rolling a 20-sided dice.  I decided to change the activity and told them that they need to run as many trials as possible in one minute.  After one minute they wrote down their data and rotated to the next station.  This was a crucial adaptation as it lit their competitive fire a bit and removed the down time from the activity.  After each student completed the eight stations, they returned to their desks to write the fraction of their successes to their attempts.  Then I had the students see what fractions they could easily convert to a percent.  They discovered that the 1/2s, 1/4s, 1/5s, and 1/10s were the easiest.  This lead to a discussion on how we could figure out the percent equivalents for more complicated denominators.

One activity +  two different classes = two mathematically meaningful experiences, not bad for one day...if only it worked this well everyday.

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