I just wrote so much in a new post but it didn't make it through so here I go again. Sorry if this later duplicates.
I just finished watching a few of the Miss Toliver short videos. If you are not aware, Miss Toliver is (or was, I'm not sure if she is still teaching or alive) a middle school math teacher in NYC somewhere (Harlem I think). The videos were so inspiring, I had to show them to my students.
After the videos I asked my students about simularities between those other students and ours, and Miss Toliver and myself. I'm sad to say that my students think I do not make math fun enough like Miss Toliver apparently does.
So my question to all of you middle school teachers is this. How can I make math more fun? What experiments can you recommend that may follow some of the national standards strands? I would greatly appreciative of fun experiments and games for my kids.
After the videos, I felt obligated to try something so we spent the period working in groups of two making various shapes with the tangrams.
Holiday budget project: pick a holiday, figure out the types of expenses involved, have the kids present something (poster, video, skit) that uses percentages, decimals, operations with integers, simple equations and inequalities in deciding how much to spend on what.
Probability project: This is like a science project, where they have to come up with a question and answer it, but with the constraint that it must be a probability related question and they have to use a food item (M&M's and skittles are the favorites). Then they have to do the science fair type presentation with graphs and charts and such.
Conversion Displays: Pick a set of conversion factors and build a robot that illustrates the progression from the smallest to the largest unit (volume, length, mass, either english or metric system...pick one).
Design a bus system (systems of equations--must be basic or they don't get it).
classroom "bank" where students can bounce checks if they screw up on balancing their accounts (integers).
In general, teach to your personality, I'm a joker and rather physical...I like to jump up and down and be a little melodramatic.
You are you, and Miss Toliver is Miss Toliver. You can't be exactly like her. You're also a new teacher, whereas she has been at this for years. You will get better with experience just as I will. Just gradually come up with a few ideas to add to your bag of tricks, and you will be doing your own thing that is as goos as miss toliver's if not better. Just keep learning and having fun. That's what teaching is all about. For example, this is my second year teaching, and my first year teaching math. Right now, I am making my mistakes, coming up with different ideas on how to present it next time, different activities, etc. I am learning not to let somebody else, who is an awesome teacher get me down. Like you, I see these great teachers and see these videos and it makes me depressed that I'm not like that. However, we gotta realize that these people didn't get like this overnight. It took them years of making the same mistakes that we are, and figuring out different ways to present things before before they were as good as they are now. Just hang in there. Don't compare yourself to other teachers.
I agree with the advice above. You should only add things that you are comfortable with. Every day in math class can be full of projects if you are comfortable with that. I don't know very many first year teachers that are. Wait-I don't know any first year teachers that are. I'm sure you put a lot of thought into the structure of your class and whatever you decide to add should compliment that. Think about how much time you would like to spend on any projects, whether its one week per quarter or 2 days per unit, or whatever you choose. Then look for activities that will complement your teaching style and curriculum.
The knack for adding meaningful projects will develop with time. For example, I taught for a few years at a school that was supposed to be have an arts infused curriculum, and I could never come up with any art projects. Luckily I was on a team where one of the teachers was quite creative. I've since left that school and I am infusing art into the core curriculum on my own way more than I ever thought I could.
I teach 7th grade math and there are some topics that are difficult to make fun, but I have found that class projects that students can relate to make the topic fun to most of them. Here are some of the projects we have worked on in class:
1. Integers: a local bank provided bank registers and fake checks and students had to make daily entries as part of their class warm up. I also used the stock market wherein students had to pick a stock from a list I provided and daily I would provide the real closing prices from the day prior and students track whether their stock made or lost money over a period of time.
2. Data collection and analysis: students chose an animal from the endangered species list and had to collect data about the animal, look at what is being done to save the animal and make a prediction on whether the animal will survive. This information was compiled in a Powerpoint presentation and made to the class.
3. Geometric constructions: students had to follow a series of directions on a map of Europe to find Carmen Sandiego. Students also created a "Constructions for Dummies" book which all worked on feverishly because they could use it during an upcoming test.
4. Coordinate Graphs: students created their own dot-to-dot and had to exchange with a partner, complete the graph of their partner and then have their partner determine if they followed the instructions (ordered pair) accurately. They then rated their partner's instructions (ordered pair).
For my students, long projects don't keep their attention. The projects that work for me take 1-3 class periods of 45-60 mins each. I then post their work on the walls of the hall outside my classroom and in the classroom. They are generally competitive and want their work to look good. As for my students, they run the gamut of gifted to very low and not many in the middle.
There are a lot of good websites out there with really good ideas, but it does take time to navigate them and find ones to try.
A good set of books you might wanna check out is Brad Fulton's books. He has some great activities. If it's any consolation, I haven't done any projects this year. This is my first year teaching math, and I'm literally just going by the book. However, I am coming up with bunch of ideas AFTER I teach the lesson (of course, that's how it works!) Next year, I'm going to start abstractly, so they only understand the concept, then, we will work on the steps of solving math problems pertaining to the concept. I am also going to incorporate graphic organizers for their notes, and interactive notebooks.
The "make math fun" movement has bothered me for years. Relevant and interesting, yes, but M&M's, giving candy, prizes, rewards, classroom economies, etc.. can distract from the content, turn your class into a carnival, and drain your time and money. My point is:
The "fun" in math is in successfully solving problems.
When students ask me the famous question, "why do we do math?" I answer them, "to relax." And I mean it. There is a unique satisfaction experienced after solving a problem. When students feel this, it raises their confidence, and that's a good feeling. It might be the only confidence boost they get all day. They were able to do that math problem.
So my answer to your question is: don't contort your class in the name of making it "fun." Math is beautiful in and of itself; it doesn't need a cheap paint job. Instead, focus on making them successful in the basics. They will reward you with obedience and peace.
To achieve this, here's the pattern that I've found to work well:
1. Demonstrate it three times.
2. Put three more problems on the board and call a student up to present for a bonus point.
3. Give them problems to work on together in pairs.
4. Give them homework on the same types of problems.
5. The next day, give them a warm-up just like what you taught the previous day.
6. On the quiz and test, give them similar problems.
Upsadaisy, I find that my kids retain the problem solving skills from project to project. Each project they turn in gets more complex in the thinking skills presented. My colleagues in other disiplines say that those skills spill over into their classes, but still, I work with inner-city kids, so they have a LONG way to go to catch up to their suburban peers, but they're getting there.