Thursday, 5 May 2011

Vegetables and Monsters and Algebra

After a recent staff professional development (PD), I came to realize that my students really need to be doing more problem solving. It is so easy to give text book practice and teach 'step by step' from the Numeracy Project books. Yet our students seem to lack the ability to solve problems that require critical thinking.

This TED video of Dan Meyer also really made me challenge and reflect on the way I have been teaching maths. He says we are teaching "paint-by-numbers" and depriving students of not just solving problems but formulating them. Follow Dan on Twitter here

Lucky algebra is our term focus and is an ideal vehicle for this. One of the problems we were given in our staff PD was solving a vegetable garden problem. I like to use my interactive whiteboard as a group activity and so created an e-version that my students could use and contribute their own problems to. I am also a Google Apps for Education freak, and on my way to becoming Google Apps Certified (2/6 tests passed so far) so I used Google Drawing to create the one below. 

Originally I planned on using problem solving to extend my higher Year 8 students but the activities, games and my problem solving teaching approach have transformed my class. Even my most reluctant students were engaged and talking mathematics enthusiastically, which made me enjoy teaching maths more than I have ever before, a double win. Below is an open copy of my Google Drawing, please feel free to test it and copy or change it for your own use.

I also found a fantastic and free game called "Lure of the Labyrinth" which is a mixture of comic strip story (which I used for shared reading) and monster video game. It is a challenging digital game for middle-school pre-algebra students with fascinating puzzles intertwined into an exciting narrative with it's own mythology (my class are exploring myths this term too) that is a perfect accompaniment for literacy. They support educators well with a wealth of resources and teaching material around the game puzzles. It is also encourages collaboration amongst the students and sharing of strategies.
Do you have any great algebra problems to share, I am always looking for more ideas?