Monday, June 10, 2013

Math Meets Geography (Road Trip Project Revisited)

After EOI testing was finished, I still wanted to have my students do lots of math.  However, the end of the year brings with it lots of activities, field trips, and missing students.  So, I decided to use this opportunity to go back and fit in some activities that I didn't have time to do when I originally taught some concepts. 

I taught ratios and proportions to my Algebra 1 students very early in the year.  Looking back, I think I rushed through this topic too fast.  Next year, I will probably double the time I spend on this topic! 

During my student teaching in 8th grade, I wrote a Road Trip project for my students to complete.  The original project was 3 days long.  For my Algebra 1 students, I chose to only do Day 1 of this project. 

The task is simple.  Given a map of the United States, plan a road trip to visit 5 cities.  Using ratios and proportions, calculate the total distance traveled.  Students need a copy of the map, worksheet, and a ruler.  I wrote more about this project here.

Road Trip Project

Since I had already done this project with 8th graders, I thought my Algebra 1 students would be able to whiz right through it.  I was wrong.  I had to teach many of my students how to read a ruler.  Rounding to the nearest quarter inch was a disaster.  And, the questions students asked me made me feel more like a geography teacher than a math teacher. 

These are actual conversations I had with my Algebra 1 students during this activity.

Me: Class, today we are going on a road trip.  If we're going on a road trip, that means we will be traveling on...
Class: Roads!
Me: Yes, so that means we can't travel to...
Class: Hawaii
Student 1: Why can't you drive to Hawaii? 
Me: Hawaii is an island.  That means it is surrounded by water.
Student 2: Why does Hawaii look so weird?
Custodian who just happens to be emptying the trash at this point: Hawaii is a series of small islands.
Student 3: Do you mean you can't drive between the little islands?
Custodian: No.  When I was in Hawaii, we traveled between the islands by taking ferries. 

Student 1: Is Washington, D.C. here? [The student is pointing at Washington state.]
Me: No.
Student 2: No, Washington, D.C. is in Virginia.

Student 1: I think this map is wrong.
Me: Why?
Student 1: Oklahoma City should be above Tulsa.

Student 1: Do you mean Nashville, Tennessee is in the United States?
Me: Yes.  Nashville is in the U.S.
Student 1: I've heard of it before, but I didn't realize it was in the U.S.

I required my students to write both the city and the state they were visiting on their assignment.  One student wrote that she was traveling to New Jersey, PA. 


  1. I love explaining to my 6th graders that Arizona, Texas, Florida... are not a countries. Every year:)

  2. Fun! I'm always surprised how long road trips can take because not all roads are the same (since the speed limits are different and there may be traffic).
    Kids Math Teacher

  3. I used your road trip project this year with my pre-algebra students. Thank you for sharing this. I too was surprised at how many students had difficulty using a ruler to measure to the nearest quarter inch. :)

  4. I created a similar road trip project for my 7th pre-algebra class This year. Wrote a quick blog post and linked up my version of the project on my blog.