Think Globally and Locally, Mathematically

Student Explorations in Mathematics, formerly known as Student Math Notes, is an official publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and is intended as a resource for grades 5-10 students, teachers, and teacher educators. Each issue develops a single mathematical theme or concept in such a way that fifth grade students can understand the first one or two pages and high school students will be challenged by the last page. The content and style of the notes are intended to interest students in the power and beauty of mathematics and to introduce teachers to some of the challenging areas of mathematics that are within the reach of their students.

The teacher version includes additional information on world poverty as well as instructional ideas to facilitate classroom discourse. The student guides are available for free download (see below) but the teacher’s guides are only available with NCTM membership.

In the following activities from the May 2011 and September 2011 issues of the magazine, students use histograms and make comparisons between different country groups, then create graphs that compare these differences in many ways and consider how each of these displays might be used. In part 2, students consider important information about world poverty by using measures of central tendency and box plots. Students analyze data and use a hands-on manipulative to interpret and understand box plots, including the connection between percentiles and quartiles.

Part 1: Hunger at Home and Abroad (May 2011)
World Poverty Data can be downloaded here.

Part 2: Poverty at Home and Abroad (September 2011)
World Poverty Data can be downloaded here.


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So You’re Teaching Algebra Next Year?

The prospect can sound daunting. You may even feel the need for a refresher in algebra content. If so, you may find these sites helpful.

Patterns, Functions, and Algebra
This college-level math course explores the “big ideas” in algebraic thinking. Created for elementary and middle school teachers, the online workshop consists of 10 two-and-a-half hour sessions. You begin with a session on algebraic thinking and go on to sessions on such topics as proportional reasoning, solving equations, and nonlinear functions. Each workshop meeting includes video of teachers working together on problems, interactive Web activities, homework exercises, and discussion questions. The final session explores ways to apply the algebraic concepts you’ve learned to your own K-8 classrooms. Graduate-level semester credits are available through registration at Colorado State University, or the sessions can be completed for free by any interested group of teachers.

Algebra in Simplest Terms
If you want a basic algebra review, take a look at this video series. Intended for high school classrooms and adult learners, the course offers 26 half-hour video programs and coordinated books—online and free. Offered by Annenberg/CPB: Teacher Professional Development.

Navigating through Algebra for Grades 6-8.
Written for the middle school teacher, this book outlines the main concepts to be covered in these critical years and presents full activities as teaching samples.

Finally, a general resource of ideas for the classroom is Algebraic Thinking: A Basic Skill.Topics range from algebraic expressions to solving equations to understanding graphs. Here you can find online activities at a click.

I hope you will find these sites helpful and enjoy next year’s class!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/18/2012.

Pandemics and Their Numbers

Everywhere our students are hearing about the HINI influenza. Their interest offers an opportunity to co-teach with a science teacher in an investigation of what we know and don’t know about this pandemic. The New York Times has created an interdisciplinary lesson Pandemic Panic: Researching the 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic that asks students to inquire into the current influenza as advisers from multiple perspectives and to share factual information they learn with their classmates and school communities.

The lesson opens with students considering “what we know” and “what we want to know.” The investigation begins as student groups take on such roles as “health advisers” or “economic advisers” or “historical advisers.” “Statistics advisers” could be added, in my opinion. What do the numbers tell us? FluView from the CDC 2008-2009 Influenza Season Week 38 ending September 26, 2009, gives great graphs of several types, some with an over-abundance of information that students will have to sort, select, and make sense of for themselves and their classmates. Statistics and percentages are topics that take on real meaning here.

If the class becomes interested in other diseases that have affected the world, they could research such epidemics as yellow fever. To get them into the story, look into Yellow Fever and the Reed Commission. They could research the number of victims over time and create a timeline from when the disease first reached the present United States up to the discovery of how to control it. A google search on “number of victims from yellow fever” brings up a few good sources, such as an August 10, 1879, article from The New York Times and another from September 24, 1897. Fascinating! But students will need to find other resources as well—encyclopedias and other books, offline as well as online. 

If the information found is sufficient, they could calculate rates of change over the course of different decades. Were there times when the disease rates rose more quickly? When they did not change at all? You could explore with them the concept of the slope of a line, what it actually tells us. Your students will find that numbers tell interesting stories! 


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What
would you like to know more about? What questions have your
students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers
by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest
posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what
you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate
your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2
publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post
updated 12/07/2011.

Let’s Talk Teaching: Games in Math Class

In my years of teaching grades 6 through 8, I generally used games only for reviewing before a test. What I didn’t realize was how effective games can be for teaching the content. Each of the games below has a learning objective; each could be embedded in a lesson plan for middle school math. And, as you know, games focus students’ attention as few other teaching strategies can. Use our comment box below to share with other teachers the games you use in class!

Polygon Capture
This excellent lesson uses a game to stimulate conversation about the properties of polygons. A player draws two cards, one about the sides of a polygon, such as “All sides are equal,” and one about the angles, such as “Two angles are acute.” The player then captures all the polygons on the table that fit both of the properties. Provided here are handouts of the game cards, the polygons, and the rules of the game.

Maze Game
This online activity allows the player to practice their point plotting skills by having them move a robot through a mine field to a target location.  Great for learning to visualize coordinates on the Cartesian plane!

The Factor Game
In this two-player game, one person circles a number from 1 to 30 on a game board. The second person circles (in a different color) all the proper factors of that number. When no numbers remain with uncircled factors, the person with the largest total wins. A lesson plan outlines how to help students analyze the best first move in the game, which leads to class discussion of primes and squares as well as abundant and deficient numbers.

Data Picking
In this interactive game, students first create a table using data they collect from the onscreen characters. They then select a scatter plot, a histogram, a line graph, or a pie chart that best represents the data. The amount of data increases and the type of data representation changes according to which of three levels of difficulty is selected.

Fraction Track
Working in two-player competition or individually students practice finding equivalent fractions and ways of combining fractions as they move their pieces across the board. Both sites use applets, but the basic game play can be set up using only paper game boards and chips.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/10/2011.

Give Us Our Daily Math

Middle schoolers may not easily see the connection between data analysis problems invented for the classroom and math problems encountered in their daily lives. You will spark their interest in data analysis by showing them its value in finding solutions to real problems in many settings — from buying a soda to taking after-school jobs to understanding weather reports. When you introduce data analysis to middle school students, you are exposing them to applications that correlate with the NCTM Principles and Standards: creating and reading graphs, calculating statistics, and, above all, solving real-world problems.

Working Hours: How Much Time Do Teens Spend on the Job?
This activity challenges students to interpret a bar graph to determine the average number of hours teenagers work per week. A hint suggests that students assume that 100 students participated in the survey. Interesting statistics about the hourly wages and annual salaries of various occupations are given.

Does It Make a Difference Where You Shop?
In this online activity, your students compare soda prices from two stores using data displayed on a scatterplot graph. Students are shown how the line y = x can be used to analyze the data and draw a conclusion. Further problems involving scatterplots compare car mileage and the performance of NBA players.

The Global Sun Temperature Project
This web site allows students from around the world to work together to determine how average daily temperatures and hours of sunlight change with distance from the equator. Students can participate in the project each spring, April-June. You will find project information, lesson plans, and implementation assistance.

New York Times Daily Lesson Plan: Mathematics
These lesson ideas from the New York Times offer suggestions for ways to draw on real-world issues and statistics to develop lessons in mathematics. Each lesson idea includes a description of the activities along with handouts and questions for discussion. Links to related Times articles provide an interactive aspect to each of the lesson entries.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.