"Design and build a model birdhouse from a single sheet of 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper." This open ended activity seems simple at first but will require careful planning and attention to detail for students to be successful.
You might start off this activity by showing a photo of an actual birdhouse and asking students to brainstorm the features of a good birdhouse. A website like this one might be a good guide.
Next you can talk about the expectations for their model birdhouse design:
Students should then be asked to create a design. The design should minimize wasted paper (i.e. use as much of the page as possible) and be easy to assemble (i.e. minimize the number of pieces you have to cut out and assemble). You can then show students an example of a finished design.
Step 1 - Students should brainstorm some possible designs (at least two) on a piece of looseleaf
Step 2 - Ask students to pick their favourite idea and share it with the teacher
Step 3 - Once the teacher approves their design, students are given a piece of card stock. They can then lay out their design with a ruler
Step 4 - When finished, students will measure and record all dimensions for their model. Students then calculate the surface area and volume of their design
Step 5 - The final step is to cut out and assemble their birdhouse model!
Here is a Google slides document that could be used to introduce the activity to students and make the expectations clear.
Math at Work 10 Activity: One teacher modified this activity by giving students a selection of designs to choose from instead of designing their own (here are links to pdf template 1 and template 2). Students then did all of the measurements and computations and had to determine costs for shingles on the roof, siding for the walls and paint for the interior. Here is a handout similar to the one she used.
Extensions: If you were to take your model and use it to build an actual birdhouse from wood, what would have to change? By what scale factor would you have to increase the size? How would building with 3/4" thick wood (instead of flat paper) change the size of the pieces needed? What supplies would you need and how much would it cost to build?
Mathematics 9 - G01 Students will be expected to determine the surface area of composite 3-D objects to solve problems
Mathematics 10 - M03 Students will be expected to solve problems, using SI and imperial units, that involve the surface area and volume of 3-D objects, including right cones, right cylinders, right prisms, right pyramids, and spheres.
Mathematic at Work 10 - M04 Students will be expected to solve problems that involve SI and imperial area measurements of regular, composite, and irregular 2-D shapes and 3-D objects, including decimal and fractional measurements, and verify the solutions.
Mathematics Essentials 12 - 2.4 Sketch and construct a model which will enable a student to show others some mathematics involved in a career interest
How much does it cost to mail a package in Canada? What factors determine the cost of postage? If you have ever put a box in the mail at a Canada Post location, you'll notice the mail person do several things. First they put the box on a scale, then they measure the dimensions of the box with a measuring tape. Finally, they read the postal code for the destination and input it all into their computer. Then they'll tell you the price to mail it.
Getting students to measure items with a variety of measurement tools is great practice to get familiar with metric and imperial measurement systems as well as becoming familiar with common measurement units. Sometimes this practice is just measuring lines on a worksheet or measuring objects around the classroom (paperclips, pencils, desks, etc.). This can seem a bit trivial. I was hunting for measurement with a purpose and thought of the measurements that postal employees do. It turns out, you can find the rate for mailing a package by using a page on Canada Post's website.
The students seemed to enjoy the activity and got some purposeful practice using metric and imperial measurements.
Mathematics Essentials 12 - 1.6 Identify, use, and convert among and between SI units and Imperial units to measure and solve measurement problems
Mathematics 10 - M01 Students will be expected to solve problems that involve linear measurement, using SI and imperial units of measure, estimation strategies, and measurement strategies.
Mathematic at Work 10 - M03 Students will be expected to solve and verify problems that involve SI and imperial linear measurements, including decimal and fractional measurements.
Mathematics Essentials 10 - D3 estimate distances in metric units and in imperial units by applying personal referents.
Students work with scale in a number of mathematics courses in Nova Scotia. In the Mathematics Essentials 12 course, they work with scale in conjunction with reading blueprints. This scale activity uses the blueprints for an iconic Canadian airplane, the DHC-3 Otter. I started the lesson with some estimation.
I didn't let students know the name of the airplane to start with so that they don't just Google the name of the airplane and find out the actual length. Instead they use clues from the photo to make an estimate. Some references might include the size of the dock or ramp, the height of the wing, or the size of the windows or door. We use a routine I learned from Estimation180 to ask for an estimate they know is too low, an estimate they know is too high and then a just right estimate. After everyone had made and estimate, I showed them an image from a blueprint and asked them if they'd like to revise their estimate using some additional information.
On the blueprint, they can see a scale drawn above the plane. Students use this information to either confirm or adjust their estimate. We can then use the scale to measure the image to find out the actual length of the plane (about 41 ft). After this opening activity, I showed them a picture of a 1/48 scale plastic model and ask them to tell me what the size of the finished model is knowing the size of the actual plane and the scale factor.
The opening estimation allowed students a chance to think about scale. Next I handed out the blueprints for the plane. Our task was to use the blue prints to help create a 1/10th scale drawing of the top view of the plane using painters tape on the floor.
Students worked in small groups to recorded their measurements and calculate the measurements for the scale drawing. Once they were finished each group was provided with some painters tape and measuring tapes in order to make their scale drawing on the floor. It could be nice to have one group do their drawing on the wall, then it could stay up as a reference to their work with scale. We also talked about writing their measurements on the painters tape as they put it down.
Variations and Extensions
Students who finish quickly can continue to add additional details such as the pontoons. This activity could also be done with larger groups creating a life size drawing of this plan using sidewalk chalk outside (weather permitting).
Mathematics Essentials 12 - 3.1 Calculate the dimensions of actual objects using blueprints with various scales
Mathematics 11 - M02 Solve problems that involve scale diagrams, using proportional reasoning
Mathematic at Work 11 - G02 Students will be expected to solve problems that involve scale; and G04 Students will be expected to draw and describe exploded views, component parts and scale diagrams of simple 3‑D objects.
Mathematics Essentials 11 - E4 create 2-D scale diagrams and 3-D scale models
Mathematics 9 - G03 Students will be expected to draw and interpret scale diagrams of 2-D shapes.
Investigations where students discover the relationship between variables can help students build a deeper understanding of functions. Often these explorations are hands on and engaging lessons. They typically start with some sort of interesting video or question prompt such as "What makes for an exciting bungee jump?" or "Which cup will keep my coffee warm the longest?". I was prompted to think about my favourite investigations after seeing a post from Nat Banting on Twitter. Below are a collection of links and descriptions of my favourite secondary mathematics investigations.
I like the investigation above because they share several common features.
Do you have a favourite activity or resource for activities? Please let me know what it is.
I was recently invited by a class to work with them on collecting and analysing data. After brainstorming some ideas with the classroom teacher, we settled on collecting data from pull back cars. I checked out Fawn Nguyen's Vroom Vroom lesson and Simon Job's Car Racing lesson to get some ideas on how to organize this lesson. We started the lesson by sharing the first half of Simon's video of cars racing across the floor. We had the students do some notice and wonder about the action taking place in the video and then introduced activity.
We showed students the recording sheet that we would be using and how we would be taking measurements (A link to the record sheet Google Doc is here). Then we brainstormed some ways to make sure that we all collected good data and avoided errors: we would all use the same units (centimeters), all measure our distances the same way (from the front bumper), not use data if the car bumped into a wall or a desk, etc. We split up into racing teams of three students each. Each group got a measuring tape, a pull back car and a recording sheet on a clip board.
The classroom teacher and I circulated the room (and a bit of the hallway) to help students and answer questions. After students finished collecting their data and plotting their values we came back together as a class. We asked several groups to plot their data on the whiteboard at the front of the room. We then had a discussion about general trends as well as why each car had a slightly different graph. Cars might have different wind up springs, different tire grip, dusty floors, aerodynamics, etc.
We finished the class with a bit of excitement... the 150 Challenge. Each team had to use the data for their car to predict how much they would need to pull back to make the car travel as close to 150 cm as possible. Teams huddled to interpret their data and select a pull back distance. Each team brought their car to the front of the class to give it their best shot. There was lots of cheering and excitement as some teams got very close. The winning distance was only 2.5 cm! Much closer than I had expected. This activity could be easily extended for higher grade levels by incorporating linear relationships, linear equations and linear regression.
Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes
Mathematics 6 SP01 - Students will be expected to create, label, and interpret line graphs to draw conclusions.
Mathematics 6 SP02 - Students will be expected to select, justify, and use appropriate methods of collecting data, including questionnaires, experiments, databases, and electronic media.
Mathematics 6 SP03 - Students will be expected to graph collected data and analyze the graph to solve problems.
Mathematics 9 PR02 - Students will be expected to graph a linear relation, analyze the graph, and interpolate or extrapolate to solve problems.
Mathematics 10 RF07 - Determine the equation of a linear relation, given: a graph, a point and the slope, two points and a point and the equation of a parallel or perpendicular line to solve problems. (including RF07.06 Determine the equation of the line of best fit from a scatterplot using technology and determine the correlation)
Mathematics Extended 11 S01 - Analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions from one-variable data using numerical and graphical summaries.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a student to investigate parabolas and quadratic functions. We used one activity to investigate two different quadratic relationships. First we observed the shape of the stream of water coming out the side of a water bottle and then we observed the rate the water drains.
The Water Fountain
I set up a cylindrical bottle of water on a crate. The bottle had a whole in it covered with a piece of tape. I asked students for some predictions. What will the shape of the water coming out of the side of the water bottle look like. What will happens to the stream of water as the water level goes down?
I noticed that the student drew the water stream coming out of the bottle like it comes out of a water fountain (where we had just filled the bottle). We took the tape off the hole and then watched the water come out while making some observations and taking some photos. We selected a good photo (the black bulletin board in the background really helped) and loaded into Desmos. Then we used a table to record some points along the steam of water. After that we did a linear and then a quadratic regression on the point to see that the parabola was a much better fit than a line. We then had a chat about parabolas and projectile motion.
Draining the Tank
We set up the water bottle again but this time instead of looking at the shape of the stream of water, we focused on how fast the water level fell. I asked the student to predict what this might look like. You might ask students to predict what a graph of the water level might look like over time for the two situations below. How would the graph look when filling the tank compared to emptying the tank?
The water flowing into a tank should rise at a linear rate. Students should expect that when the water drains from an open tank, the flow will be greatest at first and then gradually decrease as the water level decreases. (This is an application of Torricelli's Law).
Next we taped a measuring tape to the side of the bottle and collected some data as the water flowed out of the bottle (A similar experiment is described in Canavan-McGrath, Foundations of Mathematics 12, 429). We used the stopwatch on my cell phone to record the time at each centimeter of height. This wasn't as accurate as I had hoped due to some distractions in the room. We set up the experiment again and the second time I recorded the water falling using a video (I used the CoachMyVideo app). We were able to get much more accurate values this way.
We entered the data in a table on Desmos and then did a quadratic regression to fit a curve to our points. I was a bit surprised at how well the data from the video analysis on our second attempt fit to a quadratic curve (R^2 = 0.9999.
I really liked how we could use the exact same setup to investigate two different quadratic relationships.
Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes
Mathematics 11 RF02 - Demonstrate an understanding of the characteristics of quadratic functions, including: vertex, intercepts, domain and range and the axis of symmetry.
Pre-calculus 11 RF04 - Students will be expected to analyze quadratic functions of the form y = ax^2 + bx + c to identify characteristics of the corresponding graph, including vertex, domain and range, direction of opening, axis of symmetry, x-intercept and y-intercept, and to solve problems.
Swimming in the hotel pool I saw these depth markers. As a math teacher, they made me a bit uneasy. What do you notice in the photos below? What do you wonder?
Just look at those significant digits. They look so precise. I first thought... going from the shallow end to the deep end, it gets 1 foot / 0.2 metres deeper. That must mean that 1 ft = 0.2 m right? But then if 1 ft is 0.2 m then shouldn't 3 ft in the shallow end be 0.6 m instead of 1.0 m?
So I looked at it another way... 1 m is the same as 3 ft... So 1 ft must be about 0.33 m. Which would make 4 ft equal to about 1.33 m not the 1.2 m as shown. But I know that a meter stick is shorter than a yard stick so this is just an approximation. No problem, they just rounded off both values.
Then I had a moment of doubt... in the shallow end the values are in a ratio of 1/3 and in the deep end the values are in a ratio of 4/12 which is also 1/3 so shouldn't this work out? Then I realized the errors and misconceptions in this line of thinking.
Other Linear Conversions
Today, as I was driving around, I looked more closely at the clearance signs that I passed under. There doesn't seem to be much consistency in the units used or precision. Do people with tall cars know the height of their car? I just know that I'm about 6 ft tall and my car is shorter than I am. Of course you can always just wing it. If you clear the warning bar, you're good to go. Anyway, I know for sure that my car is less than 11 foot 8 if I ever end up in North Carolina.
I saw this relatively accurate sign at a parking garage today so I took a photo. 6'0" is approximately 1.8288 metres so these values are the closest I've seen.
Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes
Mathematics 10 M02 - Students will be expected to apply proportional reasoning to problems that involve conversions between SI and imperial units of measure.
Mathematics at Work 10 M01 - Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the International System of Units (SI) by describing the relationships of the units for length, area, volume, capacity, mass, and temperature and applying strategies to convert SI units to imperial units.
Mathematics Essentials 10 D1 - Demonstrate a working knowledge of the metric system and imperial system.
I recently did an activity with students to answer a question by collecting and analysing data. I was inspired by similar activities from Bruno Reddy, Mean Paper Aeroplanes, and Julie Reulbach, Paper Airplanes for Measures of Central Tendencies. We started class by watching a video of the Paper Airplane World Championship - Red Bull Paper Wings 2015. This short video (about 3 minutes) shows the highlights of three paper airplane competitions; Distance, Airtime, and Aerobatics. After watching the video I let students know that we would be making paper airplanes for a distance competition.
Next I showed students two different paper airplane designs; the Suzanne and the Classic Dart. I asked students to predict which would fly the farthest. I also asked how much difference, if any, they expected to see between the two designs. Most students predicted that the Suzanne would fly farthest. The next step was to create an experiment in order to test our predictions.
We split the class in half. Each half followed a specific set of instructions to fold one or the other of these planes (I had a handout with instructions for each design). We used different coloured paper for each design. Each student threw their plane three times and recorded each flight distance. We measured in feet since the floor tiles in the hallway were one square foot. The students then calculated their mean distance and shared this mean with their team. Each team then calculated a five number summary and sketched a box plot for their data.
Students declared the Suzanne to be the clear winner. The low ceiling height in the hallway seems to have favoured the glider design. We conjectured that the Dart may have performed better than Suzanne if they were thrown outdoors where students could throw at a higher launch angle. We also conjectured that the greater variation in the data for Suzanne was a result of the more complex folding required. Some planes were folded very well and others were a bit of a mess.
We finished class by watching a video of the world record throw for distance (we just watched the first 3 minutes of the video). The Suzanne, designed by John Collins and thrown by football quarterback Joe Ayoob holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft. The record throw was 226 feet, 10 inches (approx. 69.14 m). Our longest flight was just over 40 feet. Students seemed to really enjoy this activity. It allowed them to incorporate some movement in class and asked them to use mathematics and statistics in an authentic way to answer a real question.
Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes
Extended Mathematics 11 S01 - Analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions from one-variable data using numerical and graphical summaries.
Mathematics 9 SP03 - Students will be expected to develop and implement a project plan for the collection, display, and analysis of data by: formulating a question for investigation; choosing a data collection method that includes social considerations; selecting a population or a sample; collecting the data; displaying the collected data in an appropriate manner; drawing conclusions to answer the question.
I prepared a lesson plan to work with a student. I carefully considered how I would introduce the topic, the path that the lesson might take and the questions that I would ask to prompt our discussion. I thought about the manipulatives that we might use to visualize and physically interact with the problem. I had a course carefully laid out.
I started by drawing an irregular, kidney shaped area on the desk and asked the student how he would estimate the area of the shape. I was prepared for a number of different responses that I thought I might hear... but the student didn't follow my carefully plotted course for our lesson. Instead he replied, "I'd use Pick's Theorem."
I grew up sailing on the Columbia River. When changing course on a sailboat, you can either turn the bow (the front of the boat) through the wind (i.e. tacking) or you can turn the stern (the back of the boat) through the wind (i.e. jibing). When tacking, the boom gently moves from from one side of the boat to the other. Jibing on the other hand can be dangerous as the boom suddenly jumps to the other side of the boat. When the student suggested Pick's Theorem, it felt like changing course by jibing instead of by tacking.
After our excursion through Pick's Theorem we found our way back to estimating the area with some manipulatives. First we covered the shape with square tiles and then we covered the shape with pennies.
We found that we could cover the shape with 66 square tiles. I asked the student how the area we found with Pick's Theorem and the area we found with square tiles compared. Through our discussion we decided that we needed a common way to talk about these areas so we converted both to square centimeters. We found that the area from Pick's Theorem was 382.5 cm^2 and the area using square tiles was 412.5 cm^2. Next, we looked at our penny solution. We looked up the diameter of a penny online and found that 135 pennies at 2.85 cm^2 each gave us a total area of 384.75 cm^2. While discussing how this estimate compared to our others, the student started talking about Alex Thue and his theorem on circle packing (this student has a really good memory). The student remembered that the efficiency of hexagonal packed pennies was about 91%. So we used this efficiency to correct our penny estimate to make it even better. This led to another discussion that I hadn't planned on about tesselations and polygons that tile the plane. The student said he had read in a book that there were 14 irregular pentagons that tile the plane. His book was a few years old however so he didn't know that a 15th pentagon had been discovered in 2015 or other recent work in this area.
While the lesson didn't go quite as I had planned, I was really happy to be able to take the student's contributions to the discussion and weave them into the overall narrative of our work. Being flexible, listening to students and incorporating their contributions into a discussion can sometimes throw you off course and you might end up someplace unexpected. The journey along these altered courses however can be incredible.
Over the Christmas holiday, the number of LEGO bricks in my house increased significantly. My son received LEGO sets as gifts from numerous grandparents, aunts and uncles. I was a LEGO fan when I was a child and now I have an excuse to play with them again as an adult. We've had lots of fun recently building sets and designing our own creations. At some point I became inspired to create a scale model of our home.
Planning and Building
I started this small project by building a test model to try out the proportions and to see what kinds of bricks I would need. The sizes of the door and window established the overall size. I continued revising the structure it until it looked right and then started collecting the bricks I needed.
Building this model reminded me of working on an OpenMiddle.com math problem. In an "open middle" problem, there is a one starting point and one solution but many different paths to get to the solution. With LEGO, there are many different ways to create, revise and improve your model. There are lots of different building techniques that will all result in a well designed scale model.
After I created my initial rough model I did some reading up on LEGO scale. It turns out that it is a fairly complex topic that lots of different people have investigated. I found the Brick Architect web site to be very helpful. For "classic minifigure" scale a ratio of 1:42 can be used. One major difficulty in discussing scale is that the proportions of a LEGO minifigure are not even close to the proportions of an actual person. A LEGO minifigure is about 4 cm tall and 1.6 cm wide. An average male human is about 175 cm tall and 40 cm wide... about half as wide as a minifigure would be at that height. Another challenge is converting units. The architectural drawings of my house are in feet, which I converted to metric (cm), then a scale factor is applied and finally the metric units are converted into LEGO bricks. I found an awesome tool that does this all for you, the LEGO Unit Converter.
I used a lot of estimation to determine how many bricks of each type I would need. LEGO bricks are not cheap so you don't want to order more than you need (Check out Jon Orr's activity involving cost, Is LEGO Gender Biased?). I purchased the bricks I needed on BrickLink.com, a large online LEGO marketplace. BrickLink provides a detailed price guide for every brick available which makes it really easy to know if you're getting a good deal or not.
I needed lots of 45 degree angle slope bricks for the roof of my house. These price stats let me know what a reasonable price is to pay for new or used bricks of this type. It is amazing to see how many bricks are sold on this site. I think that the stats from this site could make for an interesting grade 12 math research project.
The Finished Project