Trying to find math inside everything else

Posts tagged ‘algebra 1’

The Archimedes Lab

I love this lab, but I’m sure it can be improved, so I’d love to hear feedback in the comments.

When I was student teaching at Banana Kelly, they had a combined math/science program that often had many lab activities, both math labs and science labs. But I noticed the Systems of Equations unit didn’t really have a lab, so I set out to make one. I created the Archimedes lab because of that.

The story of Archimedes and the Crown of Syracuse says that he was able to determine that the crown was not pure gold by using mass and volume. We start by watching a short video about the story. (I had assigned the video as homework, but no one watched it. While my video homework watching rates aren’t stellar, they’ve never been this bad. I blame the fact that it’s been a while: the last video was in December.)

Then I tell them that we can do Archimedes one better. It’s been over 2000 years since he lived and we have algebra and precise tools on our side: we can figure out exactly how much gold was stolen, not just if some was.

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To demonstrate this, we built several Mystery Blocks out of two different materials. Back at BK, we had lots of different materials in the science closet to use. Because the students would know the type of material (brass, aluminum, wood, etc) but not the size and shape, they would have to use density to solve the problem. (But I had seeded the story throughout the whole unit.) The density kit I requested last year never arrived, though, so I had to scrounge around for something, and I found the perfect thing: Cuisinaire Rods.

I noticed that, despite what I expected, the longer Cuisinaire rods are much less dense that the small single cubes. So I used some amount of cubes and some amount of rods to make the mystery blocks. Then I simply give the kids one cube, one rod, the block, a scale, and a ruler, and ask them to figure out how many if each kind are in the block.

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This lab was much more procedural when I first made it, but I’ve embraced the problem-solving classroom since then. And while my students were unsure of what to do, I feel like we’ve built up to this kind of unstructured problem, and most of them took to it well.

When they thought they had a solution, I would press them on it. “Why do you think it’s 5 yellow blocks and 5 cubes?” If they responded that that matches up in size to the block, I would point out any others do also, like 4 yellow and 10 cubes. I would implore them to use the tools available to them. (We also talked about mass, volume, and density in the warm-up.) If they told me some combination gave them the right mass, I would point out that their volume would be off. If they told me no combination gave them the right volume AND right mass, I would ask why. Most would identify the tape/foil/wrapping paper as the culprit.

Most importantly, if they gave me a solution that was well supported, even if incorrect, I told them there was only one way to find out if they were right: unwrap the mystery block and see. The excitement at each table when they got to that point was palpable. One student said it felt like Christmas. If they were right, they were ecstatic. If they were not, they tried to figure out where they went wrong.

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When I first made this lab, I put it at the end of the Systems unit, thinking they would need those tools. Now I have the confidence to put it at the beginning, and let them figure it out. No one used equations explicitly to solve the problem, but they definitely grappled with the idea that two separate constraints need to both be satisfied in order to solve a problem, which is an important understanding for systems.

This post is getting a little long, so I’ll probably split off into another posts with problems I had with the lesson, things that went well, and a call for suggestions. I just wanted to get this out there. It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, because I’ve had a lot going on in my life. So I want to get back to it.

The Lab Sheet

The Archimedes Lab

Accompanying Graph

Totally Radical

So I’ve been working on creating this board game, Totally Radical. (Tagline: Don’t Be a Square.) After some play-testing and adjustments, and bouncing ideas off of other teachers, I’m ready to post about it.

(But first, thanks to my co-teacher Sarah for helping come up with the game, my coworkers Cindy and Jenn and my Tweeps Max, Jami, and Jamie for playtesting.)


The idea behind the game came before I didn’t really have a good application for simplifying radicals. But I’ve been annoyed at how I see math games designed: do some math action and, if you are correct, you then get to do some game action. While this is certainly how some games work (like Trivial Pursuit), it just separates the math from the game and makes the math seem worthless. So I wanted a game where the math action WAS the game action.

You can read the rules of the game right here: Totally Radical Rules. During the game you have a choice of 5 actions: 3 involve actions we take when simplifying (breaking a number into two factors, taking a root and putting it outside the radical symbol, multiplying two terms together) while two are purely game actions (draw a card, play a special “Action” card).

Other touches of note: the factor cards are exactly half the size of the radicand cards, so that students break up “larger” numbers into “smaller” ones.

You can use factor cards on their own or combined into multi-digit numbers, like so:

(the top would be two factors, 2 and 5, and the bottom would be one factor, 25)
The numbers in the radicand cards are not just simple numbers. There’s prime numbers, composite numbers that can’t be simplified, perfect squares, as well as numbers that can be simplified (going all the way up to 250).

So, how can get this game, you may ask? Two ways!

Make It Yourself

If you want it for free, or are just in that #Made4Math mindset, you can print out the following files on card stock:

Prototype Factor Deck

Prototype Radicand Deck

Cut the cards out and label the backs. Print out the instructions (found here). You’ll also need to make a board: 4 big radical signs (I also recommend cardstock.) That might look something like this:

(I also drew in spots to put the card decks in).

Don’t want to make it or want the awesome one pictured above? Then go for option 2:

Buy It

I found this great website called The Game Crafter where you can send in artwork, pick out the pieces, etc, and they will print and construct the game for you. So if you click the button below, it should bring you to the shop to buy it.

TOTALLY RADICAL
DON’T BE A SQUARE