Math Without Numbers

“What are we doing today? We’ve already learned everything.”

“Everything you need to know? Ready to go be an adult?”

“Ms,” my student whined, “you know what we mean!”

“I know, I know,” I said, “So we’re doing something new today.” I looked at my students and laughed. “You look suspicious!”

“You have that Ms Look,” one of them replied.

We’ve finished The Tests.

Now I have three weeks to kill (although I’ll be absent four days of the remaining 14). It’s awfully difficult to keep the kids’ attention for three weeks since they’ve learned the entire curriculum and feel like they’re done with school because The Tests are over.

An added difficulty is that other grades are still testing, and they use the rooms around us for testing every single day. Quite frankly, I’m tired of having to keep my kids silent all day long because there’s normally almost always a buzz in the class.

Add to that the weird schedule that takes place at the end of the year?

“We’re doing math without numbers. And we’re doing math without one correct answer.”

My students stared at me.

“How do you do math without numbers?”

Last month I went to a STEM (Science/Tech/Engineering/Math) workshop in the District and was introduced to MEAs (Model Eliciting Activity.

The idea behind an MEA is that students are working with a realistic, open-ended problem. The entire goal is to come up with a method to solve the problem which can be used in other cases.

I handed my kids a letter from a cereal company telling them their task. They needed to analyze the data for five new cereal recipes to decide which one to sell. They would have information about taste, texture, healthfulness, and cost to manufacture. They needed to rank the cereals, explain their methods for ranking, and be sure that the method could be used for any other similar data.

“So,” I asked, “What do you think this data will look like?”

“A tally chart!”

“A bar graph!”

“A pie chart!”

I handed them the data.

Smiley faces?”

I stepped back and watched the kids work. Most of them started by assigning a frown zero points, a neutral face one point, and a smile two points. But of course I’d built ties into the data if they did that.

Then the arguing began.

“I think we can ignore health.”

“No we can’t! My mom always looks at the labels!”

“This one is good in everything except texture.”

“Yeah, but who wants to eat food that feels gross? Eww.”

With the exception of one student, the entire class was engaged for the math period. They were working together, defending their ideas, using persuasion, and exhibiting flexible thinking.

I think I have found engaging work for the last 14 days!