Algebra Middle School

Tapping Into the Addiction of Bubble Wrap

Engaging students in discussion of mathematics in applied situations is a rewarding experience. Seeing students immerse themselves in a task and offering to share their results makes a math class hum with excitement. But finding the right scenario, the right “hook” which will drive discussion can be an effort. While we hope to link math to real-life science and engineering, sometimes the silliest data collection experiments create a buzz in class.

I give you the Bubble Wrap Challenge.

The past week, I worked with a 7th grade teacher on a slope activity. By the end of the unit, students would be expected to compute the slope of a line via a formula. In my experience, students tend to understand indivdual aspects of slope,as they are often taught in pieces, but have difficulty shifting between meanings. What do we want students to understand about slope?

Slope between data points can be computed using a formula
Slope can indicate steepness
Slope can indicate a rate of change

As students entered the class, and the teacher took attendance, I was playing on a SMART Board with a Virtual Bubble Wrap Applet. You’ll need Java for it.   I challenge you to play with it for less than 10 minutes, and without calling 3 friends over to play.  Can’t be done.  Try Manic Mode for the extra-special dose of stress relief.


After some initial playing, we sought to find the Inter-Galactic Bubble Wrap Champion of period 2.  Each group was given an Ipad loaded with a similar app and 60 seconds to play the game.  While a student played, a partner wrote down the player’s score every 10 seconds.  Results were then plotted and a connected line-graph made.


Discussion then centered around finding not only the overall bubble-popping rate, but debating the 10-seconds intervals when Aiden was the most, and least successful, at bubble-popping. A second contestant was then added to the mix…


Which player was the fastest popper? Who was the best in a short period? Students were soon able to compute rates for segments, without prior knowledge of the slope formula. The teacher later introduced the formal formula. The payoff comes when students volunteer that we can identify the “best” popping rates by looking for steep segments, and lower popping rates in shallow segments.

Now back to popping some bubbles…..


Photopeach – Creating Visual Hooks

Saturday morning, I attended a few sessions of Discovery Education’s SciCon, an online convention featuring a number of leaders of the Disocvery Educators Network.  Lance Rougeux presented 10 tools for encouraging student engagement, and today I played around with PhotoPeach, a site which allows for making quick slide shows with nice-looking captions.  Of interest to teachers is the easy-to-use Quiz feature, where questions and answers can be loaded, and a countdown clock included.

I took 5 minutes looking up pictures of quadrilaterals on Google, and another 10 minutes signing up for Photopeach, figuring out the interface, and entering questions.  Definitely easy to use, fun, and something to use in the classroom:

Properties of Quadrilaterals on PhotoPeach

What a great tool for formative assessment, and not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. Photopeach now goes on my classroom links list!


May The Best Team Win?

Driving home today, there was an interesting discussion on sports-talk radio about championship teams in various sports. The genesis of the discussion was the lingering anger/disappointment/jealousy we Phillies fans harbor over the Saint Louis Cardinals winning the World Series this year (the stereotype is true….we are generally angry people). Despite having the best regular-season record, and the best record in team history, the Phillies were out in the first round.

Part of the discussion centered around the wild-card in baseball, and how the introduction of the wild-card (and more next year), makes it far more difficult for the “best” team to win. This stands in contrast to the NBA, where the best team is not often upset early, and the NFL, where the byes give a large advantage to top teams.

So, what does the data suggest? Coming home, I looked up the champions for the past 25 years in all 4 major (yes, hockey counts….so shut it!) sports. I also did a quick check and found the team’s regular season ranks, according to wins (or points, in hockey). Here’s what we get:


Some interesting trends here. The host on my local sports-radio channel was making a compelling argument this it is easier to win if you are a top team in the NBA, and the numbers bear that out.  Also, note how poorly the team with the best regular-season record in major league baseball fares.

Math-wise, what can we do with this data? The chart has some nice talking points for conditional probability:

  • What is the probability you win the NBA title, give that you are the top seed?
  • What is the probability you were the top team, given that you won the World Series?
  • What is the probability you were the #2-4 seed, if you won the Stanley Cup?

What else can you do with this?