One of the more intriguing math-related websites I have been following this year is 101qs.com by Dan Meyer. The site has a simple concept: you are presented with a picture or short video clip, and are asked to contribute the first question that comes to your mind. I have contributed a few items to the site, and reading some of the questions posed often leads me in directions I hadn’t initially considered. How neat! You can also view questions which others have contributed for each item. The pictures and videos are meant to serve as “first acts“, mathematical conversation-starters which lead to problem-solving discussions.
What I like most about this site is that there are no answers. Rather, our focus shifts to posing interesting questions, facilitating meaningful discussions of problem solving methods, and working towards plausible solutions.
As the site became populated with more “first acts”, I recruited volunteers in my district to find a way to use this site with their classes. I found two high school teachers, who were eager to share their Academic (our most basic) Geometry classes. It’s a shame that we often reserve interesting, open-ended tasks for our highest achieving kids, so I was interested to see how these groups would take to the project. And while my high school colleagues were enthusiastic about using the site to develop a task for their students, there were some natural questions about managing the task: How will kids react to having such an open-ended task? Will they persist in completing the task? How will we assess their work?
Note: one teacher I am working with attempted to utilize the site, after we had some discussions of a project, but found that her students were blocked from the site at school, due to its YouTube links. I have since taken care of this snag, but you may need some coaxing with your higher-ups.
We settled upon a structure to help kids step through the task. In day 1, partnerships of students will:
- Select an item to explore.
- State your question.
- Develop a plan of attack and list measurements you will need to consider.
- List the math (formulas or concepts) you will need.
The partnerships will then meet with the teacher to discuss their ideas and revise, if necessary. The task then moves on to day 2:
- Complete the plan of attack.
- Answer the question.
- Reflect upon your process and state any changes or improvements.
To complete the task, students will create a presentation which steps through their question. In order to help students understand the task and our expectations, I visited the classes, and modeled the process for one of the Top 10 pictures from the site: the Ticket Roll.
The class discussions were rich, and allowed many students to provide ideas: How many tickets are there? How long is the roll? How will we find the thickness of a ticket? How precise do we need to be? Why are we doing this? In both classes I visited, we discussed the dis-comfort we feel when we have a question without a known answer, and how rare it is to have this happen in math class. To complete the ticket roll problem, I shared a Prezi I made to model our expectations:
As students complete this task, look for an update here and I will share some of the presentations. Would love to hear all of your ideas for how to utilize this rich resource!