Friday, June 20, 2014

Culminating Project: Quadratics Toss!

While the Scavenger Hunt took up the majority of the time we had devoted to our culminating project this year, it wasn't a true culmination as it left out one of our units: Introduction to Quadratics (our partner class wasn't able to fully cover the unit, so it was omitted from the scavenger hunts we created for each other).

I was so incredibly fortunate to have an amazing peer teacher in class with us this semester. She was a tremendous help both in terms of helping the students with their work, as well as keeping the class organized (exit slips and the tracking board became her domain!). 

She made anchor charts, marked quizzes, organized hands-on activities (she was the only one who knew the answers to our What's in the Bag? activity, since she made up the bags!), and so much more, all while being there for the students by giving them feedback and keeping them on track. She is an incredible young woman, and I am grateful for all the time and effort she chose to put into our class. 

As we approached the end of the semester, she was tasked with the job of brainstorming an appropriate quadratics project. The resulting activity is pretty much her idea, with a couple of tweaks.

The Quadratics Toss!

As a 1-2 day activity, my MFM2P (grade 10 applied math class) was asked to model the trajectory of a bean bag as it was tossed from one side of a tennis court to the other. (Click here to see the project instruction sheet.)

In short, students had to:
  • sketch what the bean bag toss would look like;
  • after some practice, gently toss a bean bag over the tennis net to hit a target;
  • measure the range from bean bag launch to landing;
  • measure/calculate the height of the beanbag at its highest point;
  • model the trajectory using Desmos.

The idea of going outside and throwing bean bags was enough to get everyone excited! As a class, we brainstormed what the sketch would look like, and hung our parabola anchor charts from earlier in the school year back up. Students came up with a plan for taking their measurements, and then out we went.

Once we got to the tennis courts, we agreed upon a range for the launch: from centreline to centreline over the net. After a couple of trial runs, students started measuring what they needed before sitting off to the side in the shade (it was a perfect, sunny day!) to add the information to their sketches.

Added Bonus

While this activity was only designed to address topics from our quadratics unit, without anticipating it, students made use of a couple of other learning goals from different units. 

They found themselves taking measurements and making conversions (unit 5), as well as measuring height using trigonometric ratios (unit 6). It was great seeing the students comfortably manage these other topics without much review, and explain to each other how they could use these concepts to complete the project.


I love that even though this was a very hands-on, kinaesthetic, get-out-and-run-around kind of activity, we were still able to make use of the BYOD technology at our disposal to model the pathway of the bean bag. To measure height of the bean bag, students used either the SmartMeasure app on the tablets, or a clinometer app to measure the angle of inclination and then later calculate the height.

Some students, who measured one distance in feet and another in metres, used a unit conversion app to make sure every measurement was either metric or imperial.

Back in the classroom, we used laptops and tablets to graph the bean bag's motion from one side of the net to the other on Desmos. The 2:1 ratio of students to device worked well with students naturally coaching each other while creating the graph. It was our first time using Desmos in this class, so there was a lot of trial and error, but the students quickly got the hang of it. They were meticulous when it came to getting the exact height, to the point of cheering aloud when they got it dead on! 

I really liked how this activity got the students up out of their seats, was exciting for them, and yet served as a great review of some of the quadratic concepts we had covered. They enjoyed the challenge, but never felt it was too hard or beyond them. 

This worked so well, that I would definitely do this activity again. With more time allocated, we could also take into consideration the height of the person throwing the bean bag (making our equation a little more accurate), and get the students to document the toss digitally (Skitch?). One of the students even suggested that they could build their own catapult, and then figure out the path of the bean bag! That's exactly the kind of engagement I'm looking for. :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Culminating Project: Scavenger Hunt!

I've been really intrigued, lately, by the idea of having students create a product for someone other than me (the teacher, the evaluator). For our math culminating project, I decided to do something a little different than just review questions or a giant applied question (both of which have merit, by the way, but I wanted to try something very different for this class).

I put it past the students what they would like to do as their project, and they - half-jokingly, I think - came up with the idea of a contest between our MFM2P (grade 10 applied) math class and the other MFM2P class in the school this semester. I loved the idea of getting the two classes together on a common project, and the idea of a quiz-up morphed into something a little more hands-on: a school-wide scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunt clues

The Logistics

The details of the project can be found here, but basically, Paul (the other MFM2P teacher) and I split each of our classes into four groups. Each group in my class would create a scavenger hunt for each group in Paul's class, and vice versa.

Each hunt had to have at least nine checkpoints/clues, and had to cover all five of the units our two classes had in common. Students were in charge with coming up with the checkpoint locations as well as the math questions to get them there. They were also responsible for obtaining permission where needed, and testing the whole hunt to make sure it would run smoothly.

The Planning

We had a LOT of fun planning the hunts. We started with brainstorming places for clues, and I loved the great ideas the students came up with: hiding clues in unused lockers (where the search party would have to decode both the locker number as well as the lock combination to get inside); placing a question, embedded in a QR code, on the school's empathy dog's collar; getting other teachers to be clue-keepers; clues inside strategically-placed books in the library; a clue in icing on a giant cookie... and many less feasible ones as well :)
Even Math Teacher Paul was a clue!
It wasn't just the creativity of the location of the clues that amazed me, but also the clues themselves: measuring water flow from a water fountain; finding the intersection point of two lines overlaid on a map of the school; finding a basketball in the gym and calculating the radius by measuring the circumference; measuring the slope of the stairwell; code-breaking, and pacing out certain numbers of steps down various hallways.

It was great getting students out of their chairs (and out of the classroom!) as they scoped out locations and made measurements for their clues. It was a very active time, and I enjoyed seeing the students exert their independence.
One of the clues. Love the "trigonometree!!"

Students came up with questions partly by looking at their learning goal exit slips from the year, and partly off the top of their heads. Working backwards to create a question with a given answer was a very new process for them, as well as wording the questions. While they enjoyed being able to choose what learning goals they wanted to include, all groups needed help in organizing their questions to make sure they had a scavenger hunt that flowed well from clue to clue.

The Hunt

The day of the hunt was very exciting - students could barely stay in their seats for instructions! Some final touches to the clues (including providing me with a solution set), and then some time setting up their clues around the school, and we were ready for the swap.

For the most part, students dove right into the challenge. Groups exchanged their first clues and then took off through the building to find the next checkpoints. I found my students to be very conscientious, looking to double-check their answers with me before taking off for the next clue (they don't take the time to do that during regular classes!). They were persistent, rigorous, and enthusiastic - so great to see at the end of the school year! There were, of course, a couple of hiccups, but for our first time trying an activity of this scale, Paul and I were very pleased with how everything went.

Improvements for Next Time

Would we do this type of project again? ABSOLUTELY. It was a lot of fun for both the students and the teachers. However, there are a number of things we would do differently:

  • Some questions didn't make sense or didn't have enough instructions to go with them, and this was only discovered when a new set of students tried to solve them. As teachers, we would have to do a better job checking over the clues before we start.
  • Some students ended up not being ready to swap on the due date, so while most students were running around solving clues, one group was forced to wait until the next day to start. Not much fun for them - next time we would make sure all groups were ready to go, or re-assign the search parties to include everyone.
  • Some clues got destroyed - rain soaked one of the outdoor clues, while our school empathy dog ate another one (I can't make this stuff up!). We'll have to have a clue-checking system in place in the future.
  • One group experienced frustration and gave up part way through the hunt. However, the frustration was not because they had trouble solving clues, but because the scavenger hunt they made was giving grief to another group, who kept calling on them to explain where to go next or what to even do in the question. This was the first time many of these students had to be accountable not to their teacher, but to another group of students. The fact that the let their peers down affected them more than we could have predicted. 

On the whole, we loved seeing the students work just slightly outside their comfort level. I'm always looking for new, BIG ideas like this to try. What big things have you done with your classes?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting Started with Student Blogs

My contribution to OSSEMOOC's 30 Days of Learning (June topic: pic-and-post):

In #cdnedchat tonight, on the topic of technology integration, a couple of us started discussing student blogs. Having had some success with my first blog this past year, student blogging is something I think I'd like to try in the new school year. I wasn't sure why I wanted to jump into blogging with my students - it just seemed like the quintessential "break down the classroom walls" activity.

And then @millerg6 posted this:

...which took me to his blog:

There are so many more good reasons to blog instead of just putting something out for the world to see! In a science class (which is where I'm thinking of blogging first), Greg's post reminded me that we can also use the exercise to foster science communication, improve science literacy and encourage collaboration between students.

Encouraged by Greg's post, I'm looking all the more forward to blogging with my students in the new school year!