Math = Love: Tombstone Project

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tombstone Project

Saturday, I attended my first ever EdCamp.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect with #edcampTULSA, but I'm definitely glad I went!  I still need to sit down and attempt to process and reflect on all that I learned, but that will have to wait for a while.  My mind is overwhelmed right now with everything that I need to get done and review before state testing starts in EIGHT days.  EIGHT days.  My Algebra 1 students will test on April 14th.  I hate how much emphasis is placed on this one test.  This test will decide what math class my students will take next year.  This test will decide whether they will be allowed to graduate or not.  This test will influence what A-F grade my school will receive.  This test will eventually decide how I am evaluated.

Jenks High School Math & Science Center

Anyhow, #edcampTULSA was hosted at the Jenks High School Math & Science Center (aka the most amazing high school building I've ever been in).  If you doubt the building's amazingness, ask yourself this question: Do you have a 120-seat planetarium in your high school?  We got an hour and forty minute break for lunch.  I didn't exactly use the lunch break as they intended for me to.  We were supposed to find people we didn't know and go out to lunch with them.  Instead, I went and ran a couple of errands in Tulsa, and I wandered through random classrooms, looking for inspiration.  I love seeing what other teachers do.  One of the major downsides of working in such a small school district and being 60% of the high school math faculty is that I don't have many people to steal ideas from.  I guess that's one of the reasons why I am so drawn to blogging.  I can share ideas and steal ideas from others without geographic restriction.

I took pictures of the things that inspired me most, and I plan on sharing them over the next week or so.

I've always wanted to incorporate more mathematical history in my classroom, but I haven't done a great job of it.  Last year, I asked students to decorate their interactive notebook covers with information they researched about a mathematician.  That project flopped because I failed to account for the fact that most of our students do not have Internet access or printers at home.  And, our school library was shut down at the time. 

I think my favorite idea I stole from this classroom stroll was a tombstone project.  It follows the same idea as my notebook cover project, but the medium is at least 500 times cooler.  Design a tombstone that communicates the significant accomplishments of a famous mathematician.  The examples I found were all in science classrooms, but I don't see why this project would just have to be restricted to scientists.  Math teachers can have students design tombstones for mathematicians.  English teachers can have students design tombstones for famous writers.  A history teacher could assign students to make a tombstone for a historical figure.  I can even see our computer teacher using this during her unit on the history of computing.

Scientist Tombstones
I think I will wait until after my students are finished with state testing to assign them this project.  I think this project will go much smoother this time because I am much more informed about the culture and realities of the school I work at now.  Many students still do not have Internet access at home, but our school library is up and running with computers and free printing.  Our public library, though small, does offer free Internet access and printing at a nominal charge.  Plus, many students can do the research on their smartphones.  This project could actually be completed without printing anything if a student is artistic/creative enough.

My sister has decided that this project is a bad idea because I don't really have much flat display space in my classroom for these projects.  I'm not going to let that stop me, though.

Here's what I'm thinking so far:
Required Elements
- Mathematician Name
- Birth and Death Dates

Optional Elements (Choose at least two!)
- Famous Quote
- Picture of Mathematician
- Mathematical Accomplishments
- Country of Origin (A map would be helpful!)
- Interesting Fact About Your Mathematician

How could you use this in your own classroom?  Have you done any projects similar to this before?  Tell us about it in the comments! 

Since I'm a very visual person, here are other inspiring shots of this project.  I love that this project allows students to be as creative as they want to be.  



  1. I definitely did this exact project in 10th grade chemistry! We also had to give an oral presentation. It might be extra cool if you had the students make a QR code to attach for a video or website that gives extra background on something related to their mathematician, bonus if they make the video or website themselves. I've heard that in real life, you can now get a QR code on your tombstone to link to a memorial video and since I get the impression your students can use their phones at school, this might encourage them to learn even more about the chosen mathematicians.

    I know what you mean about testing. We gave our first test in early March and our Algebra test is coming in about 6 weeks. Good luck!

    1. That is too cool that you did the exact same project! I like the idea of using QR codes with this project. One of my goals for this summer is to explore the use of QR codes in the classroom since it's something I've never tried before. The QR codes on actual tombstones blows my mind, though!

  2. I have not done this project but our English teacher has done it with book characters.

    1. I would love to see what students came up with for that!

  3. Another play on this same concept (presenting a historical figure) is to have students create mock Facebook pages for the mathematician/scientist/author, etc. The bio page should be pretty self-explanatory, but then students could also be challenged to include some posts about the person's work, or fictitious posts the person might have made while working on their more famous projects. So, Einstein might say "Another ho-hum day at the patent office...I'm still thinking about relativity..." Students would need to be more detailed if this really was an assessment.

    Glad to see you posting again! Your blog is part of my daily reading!

    1. I think these would be an absolute blast to grade! And, I think their research time would be more productive and meaningful if they knew they were going to have to synthesize their research to create fictitious posts. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Another play on this project is to use a cereal box so they have 4 sides to design/cover. You can go along the lines of Wheaties - with a famous/inspirational person on the front.

    1. I'm LOVING this idea! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I did this project. Students completed a brief historical sketch (looked up answers to questions about a mathematician) the first week of school and shared their findings with their group members. Then around Halloween, they made tombstones for they're mathematicians. This was not a project. Just an in class activity for a day, but they really enjoyed it.

  6. Are you familiar with this website the their biographies index?