Engaging My Students With 3-Act Math Problems

I really want my students to become engaged in the process of Math and I have been looking on blogs, asking other teachers, looking around Twitter, doing anything I can think of to find out what other teachers are doing.  I ran across Dan Meyer’s blog last week sometime and over the weekend decided to develop what Meyer calls ‘Three Act Math Problems’.  Basically these problems use technology to video tape, photograph, and annotate something from everyday life.  Students are shown this video and then ask questions.  Once we decide on a question we are going to answer students break off and work out the math.  At the end we get back together, discuss what we did and imagine how we could take this further.

This whole past week I have been doing Three Act Math problems for the first 10 – 15 minutes and have seen engagement increase consistently.  I think the students really appreciate the idea that:

1.) We are answering their questions.

2.) The things we have looked at are things that are relevant to them.

An Example: Yesterday we looked at a National Post article that stated we are going to melt down 85 million kg of pennies in the next year.  One student knew copper was worth a bit and so wanted to know how much money we’d make off the copper.  The students then determined they needed to know how much one penny weighed (although at the end we realized this was irrelevant), the percentage of copper in one penny and the price of copper.  Once we found these numbers (there was a helpful info graphic with the article) the students were able to work out mathematically how much money we would make off the copper in 85 million kg of pennies.

We have only been doing Three Act Math problems for almost a week however the class is already beginning to ask great questions as well as come up to me with their own ‘Acts’ to base questions around.  Students are becoming less afraid to ask questions and more focused when we cover particular aspects of the curriculum.  My hope is to continue this at the beginning of every class as a way of engaging my students and helping them understand how Math can help answer their questions about the world around them.

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Our Meeting With An Archaeologist

In my Social Studies 9 class I have really been trying to focus on engaging my students (sometimes it works, sometimes I learn from it and try again).  We are just beginning a new unit on societies of the past and we thought it would be cool if we could talk to someone who actual studies these societies as a living.  Que the drum roll…….. Enter Doctor Chris Foley from the University of Saskatchewan.

Photo by: Jessica Finson

Okay, well I don’t think he looks the same as Indiana Jones however his job sounded just as exciting as in the movies.  Dr. Foley shared with us what it is that he does, where in the world he has been, and some of the spectacular discoveries his teams have made.  It was an unique experience being able to hear from someone who not only does the stuff we are studying for a living but is immensely passionate about it as well.  Dr.Foley was an amazing storyteller and had so many interesting anecdotes along the way.  I asked some students afterwards what they thought and they all agreed that this was a great experience for us. Meeting with Dr.Foley allowed us to put a face and voice to the content we were studying as well as offering us an unique perspective from someone that we would not normally meet.  I would definitely do this again in the future!

In order to make this meeting possible we used Adobe Connect.   Adobe Connect is the web-conferencing software that our division uses however I think it is very similar to Elluminate, a  (possibly less expensive) program we used to meet in my ECMP 355 class. The program allowed us to set up an online meeting place where both Dr.Foley and I met using a URL we were given when @jeffwalters27 created the space

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

for us. There were some issues that I think extended from our unfamiliarity with the Adobe platform however the overall experience with Adobe was good.  A tool like Adobe or Elluminate give presenters more versatility however I think you do give up some of the intuitiveness you would have with Skype or Hangouts.  I think in the future I would look for a platform that would be more comfortable for our expert to use or I would make sure I knew the capabilities of the networks and hardware that either of us were working with.

This was a great learning experience, not only for my students who got to meet an actual archaeologist, but for me as well.  I think connecting with an expert is such an important step whenever it is possible (something I took away from my visit at the Calgary Science School).  With the technology available to us all it takes is an email to set meetings like this into motion.  Looking back on our meeting with Dr.Foley there is no way that I could compare with both the knowledge and passion that he has for his field.  Meeting Dr.Foley and being able to ask him questions has helped my students and I become more engaged and excited for our new unit.  Yay internet!