Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Math Challenge Activity

I built this activity for a group of 120 students from grades 7-10 at a provincial math contest. The problems themselves are a mixture of created, adapted, and stolen. I chose them because they fit fairly nicely into a multiple choice format while still eliciting deep thinking.

The puzzle moves forward as follows:

There are 10 stations, and 10 problems. Each problem is responsible for giving a unique letter for the final word scramble. Some of the letters are repeated more than once in the final answer (i.e. have a frequency more than one), but no problem leads to the same letter.

Each station contains a single problem and four multiple choice options. Each option is paired with a cipher key to apply to a letter also given on the problem card for that station. The students move from station to station answering problems, getting correct Caesar cipher keys, decoding the letters, and building a bank of letters to later unscramble to get the secret message and complete the activity.

I included a space on each station card for Station Number and Room Number. I had 10 separate rooms to work with, and wanted to get the kids moving around the building; you could set up 10 stations in the same room. Closer confines leads to more debate.

An example is given on the student recorder sheet:

If a student feels that the correct answer to the problem is the second one, then they would receive the Caesar cipher key of 5. That would move the letter "R" (pictured on the page) 5 places through the alphabet landing on "W". Because the frequency of this station is x3, three of those letters ("W") would go into the pool of letters for the final word scramble.

I've uploaded a .pdf of the problem sheets (one for each station) as well as the student recorder sheet I gave them to house their answers and guide their search. Word documents had insane formatting issues when uploaded.

Problem Sheets

Recorder Sheet

The final message should unscramble as:  THREE POINT ONE FOUR

A couple other anagrams were deciphered by students:


The problems could be changed to test a specific topic as a review or work period. If you do change the questions, be sure the correct answers still align with the correct cipher keys.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Large Whiteboard Project

Group whiteboarding has changed how I teach mathematics. It has also changed how students operate as a community of mathematicians. 

Since ordering my first set of large whiteboards, our department has ordered four times again, and given workshops to the division's mathematics teachers. (For a tour through my whiteboarding history, start here: mini whiteboards)

My running motto has become, 

"Whiteboards give me more than eight-and-a-half by eleven ideas"

This, coupled with the assertion that you can't expect limitless ideas with limited innovation space, caused me to think bigger. This is the result. 

Whiteboard paint from the HomeDepot coupled with ebay'd Washi Tape creates a new innovation space across my back wall. The new ultra-large whiteboard opens up opportunities for larger groups and impromptu collaboration as one group comments on the work now presented in plain sight. 

It also accommodates students who need some movement while thinking. 

Three pictures of the completed project:

For some reason, it makes the room feel larger. It encourages collaboration, curiosity, and conjecture. Next stop, find a classroom made entirely of dry erase surface. (probably a harder sell).