End of Term Maths Fun: Fermi Problems!

Towards the end of the year, in the last couple of weeks of Term 4, I always find it difficult to keep the balance between work and fun. Part of me just wants to kick back and relax with my grade, but the other part knows that if I do I’m bound to face some issues with behaviour.

I realised that the solution is simply to choose relevant, fun activities that are whole-class oriented and allow for some flexibility in timing. Of course, the odd after lunch Christmas craft activity is thrown in too! I have even thrown in a free resource for doing Fermi Problems in your classroom before the end of the year!

Nobel Prize Winner, Enrico Fermi. By Department of Energy. Office of Public Affairs, via Wikimedia Commons

The solution? Fermi Problems. Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) was a physicist who was also famous for amusing his audience with problems. One of the most famous questions he posed was, “How many piano tuners are there in the state of Chicago?” (See the video below for the answer!) A Fermi problem sounds tricky, but anyone can solve them using a series of estimates.

Some examples of Fermi problems are:

  1. How many blades of grass are on our school oval?
  2. How many people would fit in our classroom standing shoulder to shoulder?
  3. How long would it take everyone in our classroom to go down the water-slide at the local swimming pool, twice?
  4. How many hairs are on your head?
  5. how many Mars Bars would it take, lined up end to end, to reach from one end of our school to the other?

These multi-level problems can be introduced around Grade 3/4 (using the scaffold resource in this post) but extended way beyond that into secondary classrooms. My grade have had fun this week, firstly estimating how many cola bottles were in the jar, and then answering and developing some questions of their own!

We brainstormed strategies together to solve the problem.

We brainstormed strategies together to solve the problem.

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I asked students to draw their Fermi after I had spent some time describing him, with some crazy results!

The cola bottle prize was an excellent 'hook' for the lesson!

The cola bottle prize was an excellent ‘hook’ for the lesson!

To finish this week, we are breaking into four groups on Friday and each constructing 30x30x30cm cubes out of cardboard. I’m then posing the question to them:

“How many full water balloons can we fit into our teams’ cubes?”

Of course, we’ll be finishing with a water fight on the oval!

To all Australian teachers, enjoy your last few days with your grade for 2013! To teachers elsewhere, sorry you don’t have the weather for a water fight! Don’t forget to check out the free resource below.

Cheers,

Teddy.

Click here to access the Fermi problem scaffold that I used with my grade. All I ask is that you retain the watermark to respect the work that has gone into producing the resource and keep sharing this page!

See the video below for a slightly higher-level stimulus to hook students into Fermi problems:

Here are some great links that inspired this post:

 

http://mathforum.org/workshops/sum96/interdisc/sheila1.html

http://www.edgalaxy.com/numeracy/2012/8/22/an-excellent-collection-of-fermi-problems-for-your-class.html

 

I’d love to hear what lessons you have been using to have some fun in your classrooms towards the end of the year, please share your ideas in the comments section below!

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Personalised Learning and LOTE – The Confucius Classroom

Last week we were lucky enough to take 45 enthusiastic grade 3/4 students to The Confucius Classroom at Mount Clear College in Ballarat. They are each currently completing personalised learning projects for their Studies of  Asia unit, and using this excursion they were able to investigate similarities and differences between Australian, Chinese and Japanese culture.

As some of you know, I teach at Canadian Lead Primary School in Ballarat, so the centre is just a 5 minute bus ride down the road. We are so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful resource on our doorstep, and for any other schools learning Chinese or Japanese I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the centre as a fantastic immersion opportunity. Our thanks go to Johanne Reyntes, who is brilliant at what she does with the various programs outlined below. These are just a few of the great workshops available for students.

The students were treated to some amazing Asian cooking experiences using the kitchen facilities and Jo’s skills! They talked about the ingredients that were used and tried their hand at making their own pork dumplings. The centre is fitted out with several interactive LCD screens, and the students watched the process before trying it themselves.

Once they had finished the dumplings and were waiting for them to cook, the students put together their own recipe book to bring back to school or take home and try more recipes.

There was a green screen room, where students were dressing up in traditional Asian clothing (with some hilarious results!) and learning about some of the various forms of dress. We were able to transfer the images onto authentic Asian backgrounds back at school and students could then use them as a stimulus elsewhere in their learning.

The centre is very tech-friendly and has enough iPads for a small group of 12 students. The best part of this rotation was the students’ enthusiasm to explore different apps, and use them as an investigative tool. Some of the best apps (as recommended by the students) were:

The centre has a relaxing atmosphere. There is quiet, soothing Chinese music playing in the background and the walls and ceilings are decorated with traditional Asian cultural items and hanging lanterns. It is clear that a lot of time and thought has gone in to the smooth management of the centre. Students are given badges to identify which group they will be working in and a clear timetable of activities is set out for the day, and each activity was easy to pick up and teach for a classroom teacher.

I think that the key to the working environment is space. Students have ample room and flexibility to choose where they would like to work. Furniture is approximately a 1:2 seating ratio, small and moveable, and other students work on the floor.
Our students have come back to school, rapt with their experience and ready to dive into their last personalised project of the year. Thanks again, to everyone at the Confucius Centre!
The centre has some details on their website, linked to the Mt Clear College website, here.
On a side note, right next door is another excellent resource for teaching science. The Earth Ed Centre offers some genuine, hands-on science experiences for students of all ages, and some professional development opportunities for teachers too. Their website can be found here.
Please leave your comments, links, questions and feedback below.
Cheers,
Teddy.
Disclaimer: I have in no way benefited from the writing of this post. My efforts are entirely voluntary, as they should be, for such a great resource!
How do you immerse your students in experiences to prepare for project-based learning?
Can you share any local (or otherwise) resources that provide similar opportunities for student-led learning?
What opportunities does your LOTE program provide to students at your school?

An Innovative, Open-Ended Approach to Mathematics Teaching Pedagogy

I am incredibly excited this week to be procrastinating from report writing by taking up the opportunity to write for Education Services Australia, and their incredible online resource: maths300.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the resource, here is an excerpt from their ‘About‘ page, below:

“maths300 is less prescriptive than traditional pedagogy.  The lessons build on important algorithmic skills, but also encourage students to develop reasoning and communication skills beyond the textbook. Students are often required to work in groups, to think creatively and to apply a number of different strategies to solve a problem. This process is called Working Mathematically and features in most lessons. The extensions section provides huge scope for extended investigations and cross-curricula activities.”

The lessons are presented as mathematical adventures, and all of them contain rich activities that promote discussion encouraging students to work like a mathematician (one of our numeracy catch-cries!). In our classroom, I have used them exclusively with Kevin Cummins’ Maths Toolbox which he shares on his superb education resource, Edgalaxy.

‘maths300 lessons are presented in an illustrative style based on the Mathematics Curriculum and Teaching Program (MCTP) style. The MCTP is arguably the most successful professional development program prior to maths300.’

In combination with this, schools are able to download the accompanying software package which, although simple looking, allows students to complete investigations with a real-life contextual edge. One example is the Footy Finals lesson (great for September, AFL or NRL!) where students have the opportunity to investigate the chance of their team winning the premiership starting from 1st-8th position.

When I submit my maths300 lesson plan, I also plan to make it available via OpenEdToolbox, so watch this space!

Cheers,

Teddy.

Have you used MCTP or Maths300 in your schools/classrooms?

What sorts of maths ‘adventures’ have you taken your students on?

How do you apply real-life context to your numeracy classroom?


What Is Project-Based Learning?

Via What Is Project-Based Learning? – Edudemic.

The development of my practice over the past 12 months has included a strong focus on embedding Personalised Learning into all facets of my teaching and learning. It includes the Project-Based learning approach as an integral element of its success. We are drafting our school policy framework outlining our approach at the moment, and this video from The Buck Institute for Education outlines the key aspects of project-based learning and the drivers behind its success. Enjoy!

 

Do you use PBL in your school/practice? What are its successes/challenges?

Please share your comments and ideas in the space below.


A Weekly Reflection Tool for Student-led Learning

This term, I have been trying to give my students more voice in our classroom learning environment with regards to the way we go about things and the tools we use to demonstrate our learning. I think this has stemmed from the Personalised Learning approach we have taken as a whole school this year, and my efforts to embed the purposeful engagement of the approach in every facet of my practice.

In a recent post I discussed the Morning Meeting that we share every day and the positive impact it has on our daily program. In this post I'd like to share a ten-minute, Friday afternoon tool that is promoting reflective thinking, goal setting and student voice with positive results in our classroom.


I look at the last hour of the week as a valuable time for reflection, sharing and wellbeing, rather than an excuse to stop learning and run to the games cupboard. I find it interesting that in Australia we spend so much time focusing on getting our students to school, on time, then only to not value every minute of the day that they are in the classroom.

A Reflection, a Goal and a Wish

During the last hour on a Friday, students relax and choose their working space in the classroom. They then discuss and choose two relevant sentence starters that they finish in their learning diaries.

Their learning diaries are accessible in the classroom whenever they need them to set goals or reflect.

Once they have finished their reflection and goal setting (and received instant feedback via a quick conference) they take a post-it note and write a 'wish' for the following week – this might include an area that they wish to learn more about, an iPad app they would like to use or a Writer's Workshop they think would benefit their project.


Not only does this feedback help me with purposeful, targeted planning for the next week, (usually an hour on Sunday afternoon gives me time to organise my thoughts!), but the students know that their opinions count and they can see this in the following week's learning.

I hope this reflective tool encourages some valuable learning time and reflection in your Friday afternoon classrooms and has a positive effect in your daily program!

Cheers,

 

Teddy.

 

What reflective tools do you use in your classroom?

What other strategies do you have to promote student voice?

How do you give students some ownership of what they are producing in the classroom?


I'd love to hear your suggestions, thoughts, comments and reflections in the space below.

 


5 Classroom Techniques That Work

Keep Calm and Carry On!
As I have developed my practice during my two graduate years, I have experimented with a number of techniques that help build student voice, wellbeing and confidence into our daily classroom routine. Some things have worked, some haven’t, some have turned out to require more investment than the return which they provide.

Every teacher can make and modify different things to work for them and their grade. Here are 5 ideas that help our classroom (and myself) remain a calm and organised learning environment each day.

1. Student Sign-in Board

Recently I have been very conscious of the interactive white board (IWB) being a shared student-teacher resource that we all feel equal ownership towards. I understand that the interactive student student sign-in isn’t a new concept; however, with wellbeing issues raised in my class on a daily basis, I have used the board slightly differently. Depending on where they place themselves on the board, students can also indicate to others how they are feeling. This allows me to make some time to catch up with that student in the morning to settle any barriers that may have otherwise interrupted the day’s learning. Please email me if you would like my template, I’m happy to share.

2. Starter of the Day (8:50-9:00)

This involves each student starting the morning by using their ‘Starter books’ to finish a sentence on the board, for example, ‘Something that I do to help others is…’. Once again, I link the daily sentence starter to a wellbeing theme. This encourages students to think positively about choices they make and how they affect themselves and others. It also ensures that students are settled and practicing writing as soon as they have signed in. Other positives are:

  • It provides a ten minute ‘buffer’ during which I can address any serious wellbeing issues should they arise,
  • I give students instant feedback on their sentences and spelling,
  • Students practice independent reading as soon as they are finished receiving feedback from their starter,
  • It provides a relevant starting point for our morning meeting discussion.

3. Morning Meeting (9:00-9:10)

The ‘Daily Speaker’ runs the meeting and says good morning to everyone. I then spend a couple of minutes explaining the day’s structure and content. Students then close their eyes and are directed by the speaker to:

‘Close your eyes. Think of one thing that you did really well yesterday and one thing you’d like to do well in today’.

Students then pass around a teddy bear (Melbourne Football Club colors – very important!) and the person holding the bear is invited to share their daily goal. Students know that if they don’t get a chance today, it is likely that they will tomorrow or the next day. I am happy to share some of our morning meeting resources via email.

4. Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

 My very favourite reflective tool. Students can go thumbs up/sideways/down to show how they are feeling about something. It can be a quick assessment at the beginning or end of a topic, or even right after lunchtime to ensure any issues have been resolved. See this blog post from Sarah (@Bearzo_21) for some great reflective ideas.

 5. Keep Calm and Carry On!

I tend to have a number of anxious people in the room at any one time, for a number of different reasons. Losing my cool only ever exacerbates the situation, or breaks down hard-fought relationships. My motto this term (the students laughed when I shared it with them!) is to simply keep calm and carry on. It is so important to demonstrate the exact behaviours we want our students to demonstrate – how else can they learn?

These are just 5 things that are now embedded in our daily classroom routine. I know there are many other easy-to-implement techniques out there, and I’d love to hear what works in your classroom. Please share using the comment space below.

Cheers,

Teddy.


What I’m Reading – October.

I managed to keep the balance between school and personal reading over the holidays. Here are a few that I am enjoying at the moment.

Making Thinking Visible, How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, Jossey-Bass 2011)

After seeing a huge amount of discussion about this book between educators on Twitter, and having discussed it with a few members of my PLN, I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. I have already found the content to be relevant to current practice, and the arguments to be concise and well explained. I love the analysis of the revised taxonomy early in the book. It is a must read for any teacher who wishes to expand their understanding of how our students apply their thinking and knowledge in everyday context.

What’s the Point of School? Rediscovering the Heart of Education (Guy Claxton, Oneworld Oxford 2008)

This was also recommended to me by a member of my PLN. Claxton is touted as one of the UK’s leading academics and thinkers on creativity, thinking and the brain. I’m not finding that this is necessarily a text that I can pick up/put down (as I like to do), and that is making it quite heavy going. This has lead to me being slightly out of touch with Claxton’s argument. Having said that, there are some interesting points raised that have made me reflect elsewhere in my studies and discussions with my PLN. Hopefully I get a chance to follow this up in more detail in a future post.

Inca-Kola, A Traveller’s Tale of Peru (Matthew Parris, Phoenix 1990)

I have been reading as many accounts of South American travel as I can in the lead up to my big trip next year, and this 90′s gem from journalist Matthew Parris was no exception. It is an extremely well-written, gripping, often humorous tale of his experiences in and around Peru in the late 80s. If you are planning on any travel yourself, a great idea is to read as much as you can before you go. It is exciting and incredibly informative, I have added so many travel plans since reading this book!

The Snowman (Jo Nesbo, Vintage Books 2010)

I’ve been a little bit sneaky here, because I’ve actually been too busy to start this one. However, I have read The Leopard (another of Nesbo’s thrillers) and I am convinced this book will be worth the wait. As the cover indicates, if you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy you will enjoy this series too. The dark, twisted plots aren’t for those with a weak stomach though!

Twitter has been a great tool for me so far in terms of receiving recommendations from other educators. However, it is difficult to keep a record of great texts to read that everyone can access. For this reason, please use the comment space to share what you are reading, and any other recommendations so that we can all comment and enjoy!

Cheers,

Teddy.


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