In my last post, I mentioned that I read a ton of math teaching blogs and am constantly collecting ideas from them. Great math tasks are just one of the many things I glean from reading math blogs. Since I'm attending a conference this weekend and have been asked to bring one of my favorite tasks, I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you about it too.
Noah's Ark by Fawn Nguyen
(click on the link above to check out Fawn's original post about this task and download a Word Doc of the task)
Mr. Noah wants his Ark to sail along on an even keel. The ark is divided down the middle, and on each deck the animals on the left exactly balance those on the right — all but the third deck. Can you figure out how many seals are needed in place of the question mark so that they (and the bear) will exactly balance the six zebras?
This task is pure gold. It's problem solving; it's balancing equations; it's systems of equations. And there are no numbers. A sixth grader could do this task (it was written by a 6th grade teacher), but it is engaging enough for a calculus student. Here are a few snippets of dialogue from my students as they were working on this task last year.
"So one bear equals three zebras."
"How many seals does the elephant equal?"
"Can you have half a kangaroo?"
"Get a smaller kangaroo!"
Student: So there are 6 zebras on that side, so then we take zebra out.
Me: Wait, you can't just take a zebra off one side. Your ark isn't balanced any more.
Student: Well, we're not really taking it off. We're just saying 'Sit down, Zebra. Wait for us to catch up.'
This all sounds completely crazy, but believe me, it's very fun. Last year, I gave the task right before Thanksgiving. Many of my students figured it out in class, but for those who didn't, I informed them that it was NOT homework and they didn't have to do it over the break. The following Monday, a few of those students complained to me that I had ruined their holiday. They spent hours working on that task because they just had to figure it out.
Actually, Noah's Ark sort of took over my own family Thanksgiving last year too. My oldest nephew, Max, was in eighth grade at the time, so I printed out a copy of Noah's Ark and handed it to him before dinner. Intrigued by Max's intense frustration/determination, one by one, each of the adults in my family found a copy of the puzzle and started working on it. In case you think this sort of thing is a regular occurrence in my family, believe me when I tell you that I'm the mathy oddball in my family. We don't sit down and do math together. Ever. It was one of the most strangely awesome holidays I've ever spent with my family.
About the author: MaryAnn Moore teaches 8th grade math in Davis School District. She coordinates the UCTM teacher blog and is also a regular contributor to the UCTM teacher blog. Please email MaryAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in contributing to the UCTM blog.
"If you're the sharpest crayon in the box, find a bigger box." I heard this sentence at a summer conference I attended just over a year ago and it changed my career. Even in a school with six other math teachers, I still feel isolated sometimes. I certainly don't feel I'm the sharpest crayon in the math-teaching box at my school. But I learned at a very young age that a box of 120 crayons is always better than a box of eight.
I have found this bigger box by participating in the MathTwitterBlogoSphere. This crazy sounding word is abbreviated as #MTBoS (pronounced 'mit-boss') and describes a group of teachers from all over the world (but mostly North America) who communicate with each other through blogs and twitter. I'm a moderate twitter user, but for me the real magic comes from reading blogs. On the first afternoon that I found the MTBoS list of blogs and tweeps, I signed up for a whole bunch of blogs and suddenly found myself sitting in an enormous crayon box of math teachers! Hardly a day goes by when I don't get some great idea from a blog written by a teacher who lives on the other side of the country in some place I've never visited. It's amazing! I've even started writing my own blog at msmooremath.wordpress.com so that I can be a more active participant in this community. As a result of my participation in #MTBoS, I feel connected, energized, and am happier in my career than I ever have been.
What's missing in this online community of math teachers? Utah! I interact with a lot of teachers online, but rarely are they from Utah. I'm pretty certain that Utah has some of the best math teachers in the country, but the only time we ever hear from them is at our annual UCTM conference each November. Even then, I'm always disappointed that I can't hear from everyone who is presenting.
All that is about to change. Welcome to the UCTM Collaborative Blog! I will be maintaining this blog as part of my work for the Utah chapter of Math for America. I will also be a regular contributor to this blog. My vision is for this blog to become a space where Utah math teachers share some of their best ideas, resources, teaching strategies and lessons with each other. You can write one, two, or ten posts - whatever you feel you have to share. Blog posts will be reviewed before posting to ensure that each meets the goals of UCTM.
If you are reading this, and you are a Utah math teacher, I want to hear from you. I want to learn what is that you are doing in your classes that is amazing. What is your favorite task? What is your favorite resource? What are you learning from your students? What is it that you know about teaching that I don't know? I won't be satisfied until I learn it too. I'm very selfish that way. How do you sign up to share your amazing ideas? I thought you'd never ask. Just sent me an email to email@example.com and I will send you an email ASAP to figure out a date for your post. Let's get this party started!
About the author: MaryAnn Moore teaches 8th grade math in Davis School District. She coordinates the UCTM teacher blog and is also a regular contributor to the UCTM teacher blog. MaryAnn also writes at msmooremath.wordpress.com. Please email MaryAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in contributing to the UCTM blog.