Math = Love: Thinking Inside the Box...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thinking Inside the Box...

Instead of giving my students a semester test, I assigned a project.  The project was to create three interactive notebook pages of their own.  Each page should focus on a different concept we studied this school year. 

I told students that these projects would be graded on creativity, colorfulness, inclusion of a foldable or graphic organizer, inclusion of example problems, and mathematical accuracy. 

Other than that, I didn't give students much guidance.  They were allowed to look in their own interactive notebooks for inspiration.  However, I did warn them that they would lose major points if they simply copied a page out of their notebook and turned it in.  I showed them my secret stash of colored paper.  I'm pretty sure I have an addiction.  But, when Amazon has colored paper and cardstock for $3-5 per ream in their Warehouse Deals section, I just can't pass it up.  My students don't seem to mind the 13+ reams of different colors to choose from, though. 

A few students asked for rulers.  One student needed a compass to draw a perfect circle.  Others chose to borrow various circular items from the classroom to trace around. 

One student, however, took a different approach.  She went straight to my supply cabinet.  When she began rummaging through my various boxes of supplies, I didn't stop her.  I simply watched.  She found a small package of rubber bands that were meant for a geoboard.  I told her she could use them as long as they didn't end up flying across the classroom.  Next, she started looking through every single box for a must-have supply: popsicle sticks.  That's one thing I don't keep in my classroom.  Lucky for my student, our science teacher keeps a supply of popsicle sticks and was willing to share.  Finally, the student asked for a specific box that was holding scrap paper in my cabinet.  Curious to see what would become of these odd supplies, I took out the scrap paper and gave her the box. 

For the next two days, this student worked diligently on her project.  She claimed that it was top secret and refused to let me see it until she was done.  When this student had extra free time during the day, she would come to my classroom to retrieve her project to work on. 

There were repercussions, however.  When one student starts decorating a box instead of a sheet of plain notebook paper, the other students in your class tend to want to decorate their own boxes, too.  Luckily, I had recently collected and emptied donation boxes from Student Council's recent Pennies for Patients change drive for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  So, I had a box of boxes for them to choose from. 

Here is the final result: 

The Finished Box

There were foldables for each of the four types of slope.

If you couldn't tell from the first picture, the clouds are actually hanging from the ceiling of the box!  The box tells the story of Slope Dude's journey. 

I think my favorite part of this box is Slope Dude.  He has his own pocket on the side of the box to hang out in when he is not skiing the slopes.  Now I see why she needed a popsicle stick...

If you want to teach someone about the four types of slope, all you have to do is take Slope Dude out of his pocket.  Using the course that has already been set up, one can quickly re-enact the story of Slope Dude. 

I knew Slope Dude had made a major impact on my students.  And, this was only one of many projects submitted that included Slope Dude in some form or fashion.  I'm at the point now where I can't imagine teaching slope without Slope Dude. 
Though I was thoroughly impressed by this project, my student was exhausted.  She had finished one out of the required three parts of the assignment in the same time that many of her classmates had finished all three parts.  She vowed that she was going to be lazy with the last two parts. 

Instead, she decided to take on an even bigger challenge.  Remember that box of boxes?  Well, by this time, the supply of small boxes had been depleted.  But, the large box that had been holding the small boxes was still sitting in the corner.  And, this was a pretty large box.  It was probably 3 feet by 2 feet by 8 inches.

Ready to be amazed by what she produced? 

A "Working" Television Complete with a Mathematical News Program

The power button is attached with a cardboard spring mechanism so it "works."
The volume and channel buttons are made with similar mechanisms.  This project features amazing attention to detail!

A Colorful Antenna

Hanging clouds and flowers complete the background for the reporter's news story.

The reporter and her news stories are controlled by these popsicle stick controls.

The bottom popsicle stick control brings out the reporter.  Her first news story is on how to solve two-step equations. 

The reporter's second news story focuses on the concepts of domain and range. 

The finished project
While all of my students were amazed by these two projects, several of them couldn't help but ask why?  Why would you go to all this work when you could have gotten full credit for just designing a colorful foldable with examples and gluing it to a piece of notebook paper? 

My student's answer surprised me.  "In high school, you don't get many chances to be creative.  So, when you get the chance, you need to take advantage of it."

How may times have I stifled my students' creativity?  This summer when I was planning my interactive notebooks, I wanted students to be responsible for creating the left hand pages.  But, I never gave them the chance.  I told myself that I didn't have enough time.  There was too much to cover.  Students would make mistakes.  It would be too messy.  I made up excuse after excuse. 

Next year, I want to give my students more freedom.  I want to give them more opportunities to be creative.  I want them to think outside the box sometimes.  And, there's nothing wrong with thinking inside the box, either.  Because, as this post demonstrates, students will rise to the occasion.  And, they'll surprise you. 

I want to throw my fears out the window.  I am the type of person who wants/needs to be in control.  But, sometimes the most learning happens when things don't go as planned.  The learning process is hectic, chaotic, and messy.  And, when I try to remove those elements from my classroom, I am doing myself and my students a disservice. 

I feel it necessary to note that these two projects were not done by an A student.  They were done by a student who has the potential to be an A student.  However, this student was actually in danger of not passing Algebra 1 if she did not do well on this project. 

Here are some other projects that were inspired by my student who chose to think inside the box. 

Each flower focuses on a different concept from Algebra 1. 

I believe this is supposed to be an Algebra robot...



  1. I love projects. I assign a project every (six) grading periods. I am always surprised (both positively and unfortunately sometimes negatively) by what they turn in.

  2. Replies
    1. here is how I tweaked it...sorry for posting here, don't know your email!

      Final Project: Due the Day of YOUR Final (50 Participation/Notebook points)
      Option 1:
      Create a number line with legend that contains each of the following:
      • At least 4 natural numbers (one color)
      • At least 3 integers that are not whole numbers (new color)
      • At least 2 irrational numbers (new color)
      + 1 written as a decimal
      + 1 written as a radical
      • At least 5 rational numbers that are not integers (new color)
      On separate paper that is attached to project
      • Create a graphic organizer that shows each of your numbers in the scheme of “All Real Numbers.
      Option 2:
      Create 3 Interactive notebook pages on any topic we’ve covered that include:
      • A foldable or graphic organizer
      • Example problems
      • Mathematical accuracy

      Thanks Love!

  3. Awesome! Did you assign them a rubric for the projects for grading?

  4. PS Do you have a copy of what the specifications were you would care to share?

  5. Honestly, I didn't give my students the greatest set of directions for this project. My original file is on my computer a school, but they went something like this.

    Create three interactive notebook pages that would teach somebody about three different topics we studied this year. You must include a foldable or graphic organizer on each page. You will be graded on your use of color, inclusion of an example problem, inclusion of a foldable or graphic organizer, creativity, and mathematical accuracy. This project is worth a 150 point test grade. Each page will be worth 50 points.

    Project will be graded as follows:

    _____/5 Color
    _____/10 Creativity
    _____/5 Graphic Organizer or Foldable
    _____/5 Example Problem
    _____/25 Mathematical Accuracy

  6. I did something similar, but like some of yours better.

    I had my honors kids do a project each unit. They had to make 2 practice pages (file folders with laminated copy of white paper inside to practice from different units nd make 3 foldables (1 of which had to be from the current unit) and make 3 multiple choice quizzes (1 of which from current unit) with completely worked out answer keys. Lots of stuff produced, which was good for review of earlier topics.