My Students were Published in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School!

We are so excited!  My students’ answers to a “Solve It!” were published in the November edition of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.  This is a national publication produced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  The students collected data about the number of jeans owned by every student in their class.  Working in groups of three or four, they used Google Spreadsheets to compare their class average to the national average and to do further analysis of the data.  They created graphs to visually present their findings.  They also worked collaboratively on a Google word document to write their analysis of the data.  After they came up with conclusions, they created wiki pages to present their findings.  Their wiki pages were creative and beautifully formatted.  They contained uploaded graphs of their data, detailed analyses, and even some pictures they took with their cameras or computers.

We had already covered the unit on averages when the “Solve It!” question came about.  Therefore, I gave few instructions to the students for this project.  I showed them the question in the article and let them work independently in their groups.  I encouraged them to be creative.  They loved this project and they reported that much of their enthusiasm was due to the freedom they were given.

Check out the wiki pages they created  and read the Solve It! Article.

Jeans Solve It Published

Suggestions Needed for Seating Arrangement in GDocs Group Project

My 7th grade class is doing an group project involving Google Docs.  They are creating a presentation in Google Docs where they insert movies they made and a graph they created in Google Spreadsheets.  We are down to the “putting it all together” stage, where they will need to simultaneously add pages to and edit the presentation on their individual computers.  There are groups of four students each.  The last day we worked on it they sat at tables with two students on each side.  However, with the computers open, the four members were completely “disconnected” from each other.  The two students on each side were able to work together and see what the other was doing, but they were not interacting well “across the table” for mainly spatial reasons.

I am at a very open school and we can go anywhere on campus, outside, in the grass, on the patio, on picnic tables…  But, I would love suggestions of HOW I should have them sit to best facilitate working together as a group of four with open computers.  I have several ideas listed below, but would love to know if anyone has done this before and if so, what worked best for you?


Four kids in a row on a picnic table – laptops all in a row.  Everyone can see everyone else’s computer, but the end kids seem far away.

Four kids in a circle, with open laptops almost touching.  I don’t have large enough round tables to facilitate this however, so could they have the laptops on the ground and be “hunched” over them?  It’s not very ergonomic, BUT the kids could actually SEE their group members over the computer screens.

Three kids working on computers in a row and one “reader” who makes sure their group includes all aspects of this detailed project.  I would have the reader be my most proficient computer user so (s)he could help the others instead of just doing most of it on (her)his own.

That’s all I’ve got!  Please help!  : )

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!


3-2-1, Math is FUN! or HELP! My transition time is killing me!

So I have three classes of amazing, brilliant and enthusiastic students.  I have been doing many activities and group work, so it gets a bit loud for my one class that is especially enthusiastic.  My solution thus far is that I say 3-2-1, and then they say, MATH IS FUN!  Then, silence.  and wow – this does work wonders!  However, I am having to say it a couple times each period to get their attention so that I may talk to the entire class about the activity.  This is wasting time.  In addition, it takes time to hand out (and collect) all of these activities and grouping materials.  Basically, transition time is killing me!  I feel like I am not utilizing my class time to the fullest.  Yes, I am going to go back and look over Lemov and Fred Jones when I get a spare moment (unlikely), I will have to MAKE a spare moment.

But in the meantime, if you are an activity, group loving teacher I would love some tips on keeping it quick, simple, and quiet when we are so very active!

** Note – I float from room to room so I cannot leave materials out for the next class – I must collect and distribute each period.

How Do You Group Effectively?

I plan on grouping often, if not daily. My needs are…

  1. Be able to switch up the groups easily and quickly
  2. Have students get into groups quickly.
  3. Designate group roles such as leader and recorder easily.
  4. Did I mention quickly ???

One more caveat – I will probably be switching rooms for each class so I will need something portable.

I would like to do these things with a minimum of talk. More talk = more confusion = more wasted time. After visiting my son’s kindergarten class last year I got an great idea! His teacher had clothespins with their names written on them in sharpie and she “clipped” them to the weekly job chart. I want to do something similar with groups. I plan on using magnets however.


  • Purchase magnetic board
  • Divide the board into colors (using construction paper maybe)?
  • Purchase something small and put all kids names on each one. (like writing their names on clothespins)
  • Attach a magnet to the back of each thing (clothespin)
  • Before class put the clothespin on the board corresponding to which group they will be in.
  • Place a “flag” on the table to indicate which color group goes where
  • Designate group rolls – Write on the board group roles like “leader” and “recorder” and put their clip in that spot.

I am thinking I could then switch it up, like add more colors for more groups and such but just adding more colored paper on the board. This is only in the planning stages. Once I design it I will post a pic.

If you’ve got them, ideas would be LOVELY before I start actually purchasing materials.