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Making Math Matter
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Rachel Price
“But… when will I ever have to use this?”
This is one of the most common questions that math teachers get asked. While some teachers find this question a nuisance, I think it is actually one of the best inquiries a student can make. I believe that students learn best when they have a genuine interest in and purpose for the material they’re learning. One way that I generate interest and purpose in math class is by having students complete math projects. Let me bring the term “math project” to life by walking you through our most recent one.
Upon returning from winter break, our sixth grade students began “The Logo Project.” I was introduced to this project by a mentor teacher a few years ago, as it was developed by my previous school (The Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in New York City). In short, The Logo Project tasks students with creating a unique logo that represents them and then requires that they enlarge or reduce their logo by a certain amount. This project takes place over five class periods.
On the first day, students draw their logos using only line segments or circles. Next, students need to measure every line segment, circle diameter and angle in their logo! Around the third work day, students randomly select the amount by which they will “blow up” or “shrink” their logos. They are all given different amounts! Some students are given an index card that says, “Make your logo ⅖ of its current size.” Others are given cards that read, “Increase your logo by 60%” or “Increase your logo by ⅝.” Students then have to calculate (and organize) all their new measurements and draw the new logo.
On the final day of the project, students complete written reflection questions and grade themselves using the project rubric. The Logo Project was tied to our most recent unit of study on rational numbers. It reinforced many skills from this unit, including converting fractions to decimals and percents as well as finding the percent of a number.
For all five days of this project, students were focused and motivated. They would come in for math class and immediately get out their work, picking up right where they left off. As a teacher, I live to see students portray this level of initiative and purpose. Be sure to take a look at the examples of student work from this project.
Math class doesn’t have to be about rote memorization or completing worksheets everyday. This isn’t how we encounter math in the real world, so why would it be the only way we expose our kids to math in school? I’ve found that giving students projects that push them to be creative, critical thinkers and apply their math skills helps to make math matter!