Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallow ChallengeThe Marshmallow Challenge is a fun activity that encourages students to work together and to develop strategies in order to solve a complex problem.  I have used the Marshmallow Challenge on the very first day of school and on the second day of school.  However, I believe it also fits in nicely on the day before a long holiday or at any other time that fits your schedule.

The Challenge

Teams of four students are given a marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of string, and a yard of tape.  Their task is to create the tallest free-standing structure that can hold the marshmallow on top in a given period of time.  I use 20 minutes in my classroom although the TED Talk video that I will refer you to only suggests 18 minutes.  Use your own judgment on the length of time.

Why Assign the Marshmallow Challenge?

There are a number of reasons why I use the Marshmallow Challenge in my classroom.  First of all, the Marshmallow Challenge is a complex problem that involves the consideration of many factors.  What is the best design structure for the spaghetti tower?  Do students realize the strength of triangles in building structures?  (Don’t tell them!)  How should the marshmallow be secured, or should it?  What is the best way to use the tape?  the string?  Are students allowed to tape things to the desk that they are working on?  (I let them.) These factors are similar in nature to the types of questions our students will ask when we present a problem to them in class.

Secondly, I want to see how my students will communicate and work together as a team.  Who steps up as a leader?  Who prefers to listen thoughtfully but is still able to provide valuable input?  Who tries to slide by with as little contribution as possible?  Especially if you decide to implement this activity at the beginning of the school year, you will gain valuable initial insights into the ways that your new students operate.

I am also interested to see what strategies the team devises to complete the Marshmallow Challenge.  As you will see when you watch the video, often students put all of their eggs into one basket by implementing only one strategy and then testing its success seconds before the timer runs out.  This is a recipe for disaster and many groups will end up with their marshmallow at a height of zero inches (sitting on the desk).

Finally, the kids have FUN!!  There is a lot of talk, high energy, and the 20 minutes seem to disappear so quickly. [Read more…]

The Ultimate Middle School Math Movie

October Sky Middle School Math MovieThe only movie that I ever show in my math classroom is October Sky.  It is a fantastic movie not only because of the inspiring story of Homer Hickam, but also because of the messages it presents to students to work hard and to never give up.  Oh yes, the importance of MATH is also highlighted in the movie in several scenes.

In this post I will give an overview of the movie, highlight some of the teachable moments, and explain how I have used October Sky as a source of inspiration and enjoyment in my classroom.  I also include a link to a printable October Sky worksheet that you can use with your students.

The Inspiring Life of Homer Hickam

Based on a true story, October Sky is the story of Homer Hickam’s determined journey to escape his fate as a coal miner in Coalwood, West Virginia.   [Read more…]

Modeling Monday – 110 Years On

Modeling Monday Math Event

Modeling Monday Math Event

Modeling Monday was born when the math teachers in my school district decided that it would be a valuable exercise to have ALL of the students from grades six through twelve complete the same math problem on the same day.

Recently, all of the students in my district’s two middle schools and one high school worked on a math problem titled, “110 Years On.”  In this post I will share with you the purpose of Modeling Monday and some interesting takeaways that our math teachers experienced as we implemented Modeling Monday in our classrooms.

I will also share with you a link to the problem itself, a YouTube video that captured the essence of the Modeling Monday event in our district, and some pictures of student work in the event that you decide to give Modeling Monday a try in your own classroom. [Read more…]

Common Core Math Survey Results

First of all, hats off to nearly 100 teachers who took time out of busy schedules to answer my two survey questions recently.  The first question asked teachers where they were in their personal implementation of the Common Core Math Standards.  The second question was:

“What are your top two questions about how to implement the Common Core Math Standards in your classroom?”

Finding Time and Filling the Gaps

As I analyzed the results I discovered two main themes.  One of the themes, which I will delve into in this post, is centered around how to find time to successfully implement the Common Core math standards, especially considering that teachers are also charged with filling the gaps in student knowledge.   These gaps are either caused by a lack of past student learning or the difficult transition that can occur when implementing the new curriculum. [Read more…]

Pi Day Plans and Activities

Celebrate Pi Day!Pi Day is the biggest mathematical holiday that is celebrated in my middle school.  Years ago, I had students bring in pies and we did a few fun pi day activities in my own classroom.  Today, students at my school bring in pies and, along with the many pi day activities taking place in individual classrooms, over 1,000 students celebrate by eating pie at lunchtime.  PTA volunteers usually help to organize and distribute the pies.

Pi Day Plans, Activities, Videos, and More

The purpose of this post is to share with you some ideas that you might like to use in your classroom on Pi Day (March 14 – the date that corresponds to the first 3 digits of pi).  I will include links to two fun pi videos that I plan to share in my class, funny pi cartoons, and a link to the simple activity that I use to help students discover pi for themselves. [Read more…]