Wiki’s, Google Docs, and Population Density in Math!

** All links I refer to are listed at the end. **

On Friday I did an integration unit with social studies.  They are studying Japan and population density.  We got wifi in our building late Wednesday night, so I decided it was time to “break out” the laptops on Friday!

I used a fabulous lesson that I found on NCTM Illuminations called “Five’s A Crowd”.  It was a great activity so I only had to modify it slightly.  It covered population density, ratios, and even estimation!  And, it had a game element so it was very fun! I used their grid worksheet but modified their game sheet.  Of course it was my first time doing anything like this so we had some bumps in the road, but next year it will be so much better!

1)  First the students distributed rice onto grids to visually compare population density of two communities, and to create a definition of population density.  The only thing I had at home that was small enough for the grids was arborio rice.  So, I used colored paper so the rice would show up better.  The kids loved the rice (apparently it was tasty and of course I let them eat it after the activity was over).  But, it was very hard to move around because it was so small.  Next year I am going to enlarge the grids and use a small dried bean – like black beans.

2)  Then we talked about the density of the United States.  We wrote down the exact population and area of the US and then I had them estimate the population density without using a calculator using the definition that we found in number 1.

3)  Next, I gave them the “game sheets” and they had 5 minutes to try to estimate the 5 densest countries in the world using lists I had compiled and put on the wiki.
**Big Bumps Here:

  • I used Box to put the files on the wiki and some kids could not download the files (it was freezing).  NEXT year I will just put the PDF on the wiki.
  • My kids needed longer than 5 minutes.  I had them write down the exact population and area of the places we picked and THEN estimate (not calculate).  So, it took them longer than I thought.  10 minutes next year!

4)  When I finally made them stop (and they didn’t want to), we were seriously running out of time.  So, even though I had planned to have them enter all five countries into a Google Document spreadsheet that I had created, I only asked them to enter their MOST dense country.  They were to enter their country, their exact data, and their estimate.  Then, I had a column that calculated the exact density so we could see how close their estimate was.  Then, I was going to sort their list and pull in the top 20 most densely populated countries to see how good their estimates were.

This is when my lesson went HAYWIRE.

First of all, I didn’t even know if the Google Docs were going to work.  I didn’t want to spend time having students sign up for accounts or sign-in so I made my document editable by everyone.  If they couldn’t enter the info, we would have skipped this part.  But, voila!  It worked!!

Since I didn’t know if it was going to work, and this was our first time using it (including MY first time), I did NOT prepare them for what would happen.  And to be honest, I didn’t even anticipate the snafu’s that we would encounter.  The kids were simply AMAZED that what they entered showed up on the projector and everyone else’s computer.  They had never seen or used this sort of interactivity.  They were very new at this and very excited, and this caused several problems:

  1. They entered the data in crazy places (ie – they deleted my title column “Countries” with their county’s name).
  2. Since they were doing it all at the same time, everyone clicked on ROW 1 to enter their data -at the same time.  Thus, one kid would start typing and then another kid would accidentally erase it.
  3. I saw this quickly and told kids to go on different lines
  4. Some students thought the deleting thing was too hilarious to resist and started deleting each others entries, it really became a “deleting war” at the end.  They thought it was funny – I (and some students) did not appreciate that.

With all of the craziness that ensued I barely got to throw up all of the amazing population density graphs I had found AND play with the SORTABLE wikipedia population density by country data that I found.  I would have liked to spend so much more time on this stuff!

Overall, though I still think the lesson was a smashing success because it was interesting, fun, and even exciting!  It was very enriching to add real life statistics and integrate their current social studies lessons into pre-algebra!  I NOW know what to expect when using Google Docs with a whole class of students at once and can prepare them, in advance!  ALL of these snafu’s were completely my fault and could have been easily prevented with proper instruction on HOW to use Google Docs to the students.  Too bad for me I just didn’t know those instructions in advance.  But, I think that we all learn best by doing it ourselves and I learned so much from this lesson!

I can’t wait to use Google Docs again in the future!


2 thoughts on “Wiki’s, Google Docs, and Population Density in Math!

  1. My second unit (in October) deals with Population density and each student works on a different country. I’m totally bookmarking this and plan to pick your brain when I get closer. Haven’t worked with Google Docs in this sort of interactive mode before.

  2. Oh fun! And, there was so much more I wanted to do! I would love to explore birth rates and death rates. There are really cool graphs we can do when we get to our graphing unit. I’ll be looking forward to your unit as mine could sure use some improvement! : )

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