"This isn't math!" - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating

"This isn't math!"

open ended problem solving
That quote came out of "math"  last Friday as I presented my students with a chance to practice some of the decimal skills we have been refining.  Decimals are tricky little buggers for lots of kids...hard to "grasp" the idea that there are numbers between those simple counting numbers they have used their entire lives!

One way that students do tend to begin making sense (cents?) of decimals is by tying our studies directly to money. Don't get me wrong--using money (one dollar is a "whole", etc) cannot be the only way to deliver these concepts, but it is more concrete than some and works well with base 10 blocks and other modeling. So...to practice adding and subtracting money I gave my students an open-ended "party problem" where they were given a budget, a list of supplies/costs, a few "rules" and sent them off on their merry way to plan a party with $50 worth of imaginary money and a million dollars of ideas.  Some students worked in pairs, others alone, some simply "consulted" with a nearby classmate--but for 45 minutes, everyone added.  Subtracted.  Rechecked.  Planned.  Organized.  Complained.  Celebrated.  Questions were everywhere...

"Do we have to spend exactly $50?"
"Do people HAVE to use cups?"
"What if not everyone who is invited shows up?"
"What if the guests don't like pizza?"

And the list goes on and on.  By the time the class period was done, parties were planned.  Math was checked and rechecked.  Kids were smiling and the comments had changed to (and I am NOT making this up!)

"Why can't math be like this every day?"
"This was epic.  I wish we could do the party for real."

and...my personal favorite...

"This isn't math."

Seriously folks...our little petunias do not always "get" what math IS!  They think it's something you do in a notebook or do in a workbook or do on a test.  We have to work to build students' understanding about what math IS--and what math is NOT.  I am going to keep working to design more tasks that help students develop this understanding.  If you want to see how I did the party problem, I do have a set of open-ended math problems in my store...but you can see how easy this task would be to replicate in your classroom.  Below is the link to the product if you want to see it--and a few photos of my party planners in action!
open ended problem solving

open ended problem solving

I just love listening to the collaboration and math discourse as students work together...having problems with MANY solutions really gets to that deeper thinking that happens when they are really applying the math we have taught them!  This problem is one of my open-ended challenges--there are currently 4 sets of these if you are interested!

Remember, the more "real" we can make the math--the more engaged they will be.  Write problems with your students' names...or events in your community...or school happenings.  I've tried to create problems that our students might encounter in THEIR real world...and they love them!  Here's the latest set...

 ...and a bundle of the first three (each are available separately as well).

1 comment

  1. Great minds! I'm doing a mini version of this tomorrow in a Math center :) I found a bag of grocery item pictures I made a couple of years ago with prices stuck on them, scrapped the questions I made back then and wrote some more short open-ended ones to get them thinking. They'll work in sets of 4 so I expect there will be lots of debate :)
    I also do a rainforest bag puppet project every year where the kids have to "buy" all their supplies with pretend money - they get a price list of supplies, a set amount of money in a little purse, a design sheet and budgeting sheet. The only free thing they get is a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue. You should hear the complaints when they realize they have to buy their crayons!! It's a great project though and we get some fabulous puppets - we post the price on the puppets at the end to see who got the best puppet for the buck :)


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