The State Fair Project – Teaching Math

When we developed The State Fair Project in fourth grade there were countless opportunities to use math.  During the year we were constantly looking at statistics for each state.  Size, population, socio-economic make-up, average temperature, significant dates…  All of these numbers were looked at and discussed.  The numbers were used not only to compare and contrast the 50 states but to develop some cause and effect hypotheses.

If the average temperature of a state was warmer than most, how would this effect the size of the population.  How about the average age of the population?  Why would older people tend to live in a warmer climate? Why would more Olympic skiers grow up in specific states?  But, why were there Olympic figure skaters training in Florida?

Every statistic became a jumping off point for further discussion and research.  Questions created more questions.  The use of math was constant, fluid, and authentic. (And of course, reading and writing skills were strengthened as well.)

*This authentic project can be easily adapted for territories, counties…whatever system the country you are studying uses.

Currency Exchange – The Value of a Dollar

From my wonderful Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-

Before a recent trip to Grand Cayman (for vacation, not to visit our hidden millions), my husband and I were lamenting the fact that their money is worth more than the US dollar and that everything would be more expensive. We explained to our daughter that the Cayman dollar was worth \$1.20 for every one US dollar, and that each time we purchased something, we would be paying 20 cents more. We told her that if we exchanged one US dollar for Cayman money, we only get back 80 cents. She didn’t think this was quite fair, but she didn’t appear to be overly concerned. We didn’t tell her that sometimes you have to pay an exchange fee in addition to the conversion. A discussion for another day.

Grand Cayman accepts US dollars, and most things are priced in Cayman and US dollars to make things easier for the sun addled tourists. We did not exchange money since it isn’t necessary, but looking back, I wish we had exchanged a few dollars. Physically handing over one dollar and receiving only 80 cents back would have been an amazing authentic experience for our daughter.

Even without actually exchanging money, she had some valuable authentic experiences. When we ate at restaurants, she saw both prices on the menus. She was shocked when her chicken tenders were \$14 Cayman and \$16.80 US and when her spaghetti was \$15 Cayman and \$18 US. Now things were getting personal, but not personal enough. We were paying for her food, so this “unfair” pricing didn’t have any impact. However, when we went to the resort gift shop on our last day, the exchange rate became real. We gave her a budget of \$20 US, but reminded her about the 20 cent deduction per dollar. This left her with about \$17 Cayman to spend. She was less than thrilled with the automatic \$3 deduction from her spending limit, but when in Cayman… She chose a Christmas ornament that was \$10 Cayman and keychain that was \$4 Cayman (every tween needs at least 15 keychains to hang off their backpack-with no actual keys on them.) She had to leave behind the \$5 magnet (that would have ended up lost in a desk drawer for all eternity). She advised us that in the future we should pick a place where their money is worth less than ours. We advised her that next time we could leave her home!

Authentic Teaching – Measurement, Money, and Chemistry

Written by my new and amazing Guest Blogger – Carissa Yfantis.  Carissa has a Master’s in Education and is a Master Parent.  I am honored that she will be contributing to this blog.

When making slime became popular, my daughter asked to make some at home. She told me that she needed white glue, Borax, laundry detergent, and food coloring to make two different slime recipes. My initial thought was absolutely not! I could already see the sandy Borax all over my floor, stained chair cushions, sticky glue handprints on my furniture, and detergent spilled everywhere. Knowing my penchant for cleanliness, my daughter quickly added that she could make it in our basement and she promised to be very careful. I put aside visions of myself sweeping up Borax and agreed to let her make it. As a former educator, I knew this would be a great authentic learning experience. Of course, I didn’t share that with my daughter!

When we arrived at the store to purchase the ingredients, I stood back and let her shop using one of her birthday gift cards. Spending the least amount of money possible was suddenly very important to her since she was paying! When she checked the recipe using Borax, she saw that it it needed 1⁄2 cup of white glue. However, the glue bottles were labeled in ounces. I told her we needed to convert the units. She already knew there were 8 ounces in one cup, so she halved it to find that 1⁄2 cup was 4 ounces. She “did math” without realizing it! The recipe also needed 1 teaspoon of Borax. Upon finding it in a 4 pound box, she happily stated that it was enough to make slime forever! At this point I had to hold onto the cart because I suddenly felt faint. The words forever and slime should never be in the same sentence.

To make slime using laundry detergent (which is also labeled in ounces), the recipe called for 1⁄4 cup. At first she picked up a very large bottle. When I reminded her to check the recipe, she figured out that she only needed 2 ounces of detergent. This enabled her to buy the smallest (and cheapest!) one. More authentic learning. This recipe also needed 1⁄2 cup of glue, so 8 ounces was needed in order to make both recipes. I advised her to check the price of the 4 ounce bottle and the 7.6 ounce bottle. She figured out that the larger bottle was less money than two 4 ounce bottles, so she chose the 7.6 ounce bottle instead. She said it was close enough to 8 ounces. So frugal with her own money. And more hidden math!

Upon returning from the store, I asked my daughter how the ingredients actually became slime. She had no idea. Neither did I – it’s been a long time since my high school chemistry class. I seized this teachable moment and quickly (very quickly – I didn’t want to lose my audience) looked up how slime forms. Basically the glue is a polymer and the Borax and detergent are activators. When they mix, a reaction occurs that causes the molecules in the glue to become tangled and create a slimy substance. Quick authentic chemistry lesson!

To make the Borax slime, she carefully measured each ingredient (“doing math” again), followed the directions, and was quite excited when slime formed! It actually was pretty cool! Then she followed the recipe for the laundry detergent slime. She liked the consistency of the detergent slime better because it was softer and more stretchy. I liked it better because we were able to relegate the sandy Borax to a dark corner of the basement.

Over the next few months, my basement became a slime factory and my daughter and her friends became expert slime makers. They learned how to alter the consistency of the slime by experimenting with different amounts of each ingredient and recorded the recipes they liked. They also made the equally important discovery that some combinations did not make good slime. They modified recipes to make larger or smaller batches and created various hues with the food coloring. Making slime provided authentic learning experiences with basic measurement, a tiny bit of finance, and a bit of elementary chemistry. My daughter had hours of fun and never realized she was learning! And I never told her!

Authentic Teaching – Party Planning

A great authentic way for children to learn about budgeting – give them a budget for their birthday party or other special event.  It is truly amazing to watch what happens when children have a budget to work with.  Not only is this great math practice, but whining ends, creativity increases, and kids end up having pride and ownership over their own special day.  Win Win!

Authentic Teaching – Restaurant Math/Percentages

An authentic and quick way to reinforce percentages with your kids.  Have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

The Authentic Experience

It’s the authentic experience in reading, writing, and math (really in all academic disciplines) that truly make a difference in what a child will not only learn, but internalize and use.  Exposure in isolation does not have the same impact as the authentic experience.  Drilling for hours doesn’t come close to the impact of the quick but authentic hit.

Most teachers and parents are extremely busy and may overlook the quick and easy authentic experience for children.  One of the main focuses of this blog is a reminder about all of those wonderful authentic teaching moments out there.  Sometimes I’ll go into detail if I think the details are important, but usually I’ll try to just put out a quick note about anything that strikes me as a great authentic learning moment for kids.

This also pairs with my favorite teaching and parenting strategy, the “Model Your Thoughts Out Loud” strategy.  By voicing your thoughts out loud for organization, planning, problem solving, etc, you are modeling behavior for children to internalize.  This can be talking in front of children to a co-worker, spouse, partner, relative, friend, caregiver, or even out loud to yourself.  What is important is that kids hear how and why things happen.  Events don’t just magically occur and things don’t magically appear without organization, planning and problem solving.  I will post ideas about this as well.

My last main focus will be authentic project ideas for teachers.  Again, I will go into detail when the details are important, but often I’ll just relay ideas that come to me, or that I come across.

Authentic Teaching – Pizza and Fractions

When ordering pizza – use fractions to discuss the slices and how many pieces everyone ate.  I ate 1/2 while you ate 1/3.  If I ate 1/2 of a small pizza and you ate 1/3 of an extra-large pizza, did I eat more?  If I ate 1/2 of a pizza and you ate 4/8 of the same pizza, who ate more?  Lots of authentic ways to teach fractions.

You can also teach the early vocabulary of fractions with young children.  When discussing ordering a pizza you can use words like whole, half, and quarter.  “Half” the pizza with cheese, and “Half” with pineapple and ham (my favorite).  Hmmm…gotta go order pizza for lunch now!

Authentic Teaching – Turning a Wait into a Math Lesson

I was waiting for Metro on a summer day, in a Washington, D.C. station.  The station was hot, crowded, and the trains were running late.  As I stood waiting, I noticed two mothers nearby, both with young sons.  Both children were whining, and my initial reaction was relief that I was not also dealing with a young child in this heat, bad enough I had to stand here and wait myself.  But as I stood watching, I was struck by the different way in which the two mothers were dealing with the wait.

One mother was explaining that the trains were running slow because they were so crowded.  She pointed up at the display that showed the wait for the next train, and started counting down with the numbers on the display.  Her child stopped whining, and became engaged with watching the seconds and minutes count down.  Not only was she teaching her child patience with patience, but she was also developing math skills.

The second mother reacted to her whining child with a swat on the behind, and language that really surprised me. Language not appropriate for sailors in a bar (no offense intended to sailors in bars), and certainly no way to model behavior for a child.  She also threatened to not get him a promised treat later.  His behavior escalated, hers escalated…and I am sure I don’t need to explain the moral of this story.

Authentic Teaching – Restaurant Math

Here is another math idea for children while eating at restaurants.  My mom actually came up with this idea when I was a child and had discovered shrimp cocktails.  To make us aware of how much we were spending at restaurants, she played a game called “Guess the Check.”  After the first time, we would expect this, and my brothers and I would listen to everyone order, check the prices on the menu, and add up the cost in our heads.  Not only was this a great way to develop authentic math skills, but it also made us aware of what we were ordering/spending at a restaurant.  After a conversation about family budgets and eating out, my order of the expensive shrimp cocktail ceased (except when my grandparents came to town and were treating – that is what grandparents are for!)

Authentic Teaching – Vacation Math

This is the time of year when families tend to travel with children.  It is also the time of year when parents are often faced with the fearsome gift shop.  (Full disclosure:  I love gift shops, but my husband is definitely afraid of them!)

Giving children a budget before a trip is not only a great way to teach math, but also a way to cut down on whining.  Win, Win!  With young children the number can be how many souvenirs they can buy (remember that young children don’t even understand that everything in a store is for sale, so you can pick a few things in your price range and let them pick one).  For older children, they can have an amount they can spend during the trip.  You can even include calculating tax (and finding out the tax rate where you are traveling) with teenagers.

And remember it is also OK to say no souvenirs.  If this is not in the budget, it’s not in the budget.