Boggs’ Favorite Middle School Math Activities

The latest Math Forum Newsletter contained information about Rex Boggs, an international math middle level math educator. He has made accessible his all-time favorite middle school math activities — all freely downloadable. You can get to all of this content by clicking here. Boggs’ flipcharts come in two versions: annotated PDFs; and fully interactive .flipchart files, which require Promethean ActivInspire.

When not teaching middle school math, which he has done for 40 years in schools from New York City to Papua New Guinea, Boggs moderates the Technology in Maths Education User Group, tinspire Google Groups discussion, and math-learn Yahoo! mailing list — each featured in these pages before.

You can subscribe to the weekly Math Forum Newsletter by clicking here.

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

AAAS Testing Gives New Insight on What Students Know and Their Misconceptions

The new AAAS website ( presents detailed information on how a national sample of middle and high school students answered each question, along with an analysis of both their correct and incorrect responses to assess whether students truly understand the science concepts they are being taught. The site also features information on hundreds of misconceptions students have about everything from the size of atoms to whether all organisms have DNA.

Knowing these misconceptions and how pervasive they are—which is not typically part of the analysis of test results from state testing or from leading national and international testing organizations—can help teachers improve instruction and better design their own test questions

In addition to the test questions themselves, the website includes data on student performance by gender, grade level, and whether or not English is the student’s primary language. Each question typically was answered by at least 2000 students in field tests involving school districts across the nation. In 2010, for example, more than 90,000 students in 814 schools participated in the field tests. Project 2061 researchers also conducted on-site interviews with students to gauge the effectiveness of the questions.

Read more about the new website at

Upcoming Free MSP2 Webinars

We have some excellent webinars scheduled in the month of October – presented by MSP2 teacher leaders and staff. Please share these opportunities with your colleagues. All presentations will be recorded and available on the MSP2 Webinar Archive page. Hope to “see you” online!

Beaks and Biomes: Integrating Science and Literacy
Thursday, October 14, 2010 from 4-5pm EST
For more information:

The series is sponsored by Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an NSF-funded project that provides professional development and instructional resources to elementary teachers (but lots of middle school teachers use them too).

This life science unit uses scientific inquiry, literacy instruction, and a multigenre text set to examine adaptations, migration, and ecosystems. Leave with a unit framework you can directly incorporate into your classroom! Note: This session builds on concepts presented in our first two seminars: Informational Text and Multigenre Text Sets and Inquiry, Literacy, and the Learning Cycle. You’ll get the most out of the session if you’ve participated in the previous seminars, or view the archives at

MSP2 Book Club: Discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 from 7-8pm EST
For more information:

How did cells taken from a poor black woman in 1951 come to unlock some of the biggest advances in science? Hope you’ll join me in reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For a really good overview go to

21st Century Skills and…
Thursday, October 21, 2010 from 7-8pm EST
For more information:

The U.S. is in critical need for a qualified workforce equipped with skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. The U.S. future workforce needs employees with critical thinking and problem solving, communications, collaboration and creative and innovation skills. We as educators will need to tweak what we already are doing in order to prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities that await them in the 21st Century. Learn how you can incorporate these skills in to your instruction to meet the needs of the 21st century employer.

Virtual Field Trips
Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 8-9pm EST
For more information:

The world becomes a smaller place if you can expand your classroom beyond its walls and location. Purposefully used, virtual field trips can enhance learning and support content mastery.

This webinar provides a framework to expand teaching strategies by incorporating digital technology to explore the world, inquire about big ideas, and create authentic experiences. See examples of virtual field trips around STEM concepts. In addition, learn about tools used to create your own virtual journeys and how to access resources for established field trips.

Great Science Content for the iPad

We have been uploading content from MSP2 Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog and the Beyond Penguins: Integrating Science and Literacy for K-5 Teachers online magazine into MagCloud – a print on demand service from Hewlett-Packard. They now have a new iPad app that allows folks to download issues from MagCloud onto their iPads for free.

iPad app download:
Browse MSP2 and Beyond Penguins content:

Crippling with Compassion?

Strange title? It comes from teacher Ellen Berg’s article in Teacher Magazine, Teaching Secrets: Don’t Cripple With Compassion. From her perspective, “One of the major issues with American teachers especially is our predilection to rescue kids instead of letting them struggle with the content a bit. In essence, we’re too compassionate.” It is second nature for us as teachers to help our students, but do we rush in on rescue missions too often and too soon?

Berg writes, “I get how difficult it is to step back and let them struggle, but I also know that it’s in the disequilibrium that kids have to make sense of things and that’s when the learning happens. If we do it for them, why would they be persistent with a problem or give it more than 30 seconds? And how can they become confident, self-directed learners if we don’t ever let them have that experience? Finally, why would they ever believe that they are able to figure it out if we show them by our actions that we don’t believe they can, either?”

Thinking of how we math teachers might challenge students to tough thinking, I looked around for problems that would work in middle school classrooms. Here are a few below, but please share any of your favorites from the classroom in the comments section.

Balanced Assessment

A set of more than 300 assessment tasks actually designed for off-the-wall thinking. Most tasks, indexed for grades K-12, incorporate a story problem and include hands-on activities. Some intriguing titles include Confetti Crush, Walkway, and Hockey Pucks. Rubrics for each task are provided.

Understanding Distance, Speed, and Time Relationships

In these two lessons, students use an online simulation of one or two runners along a track. Students control the speed and starting point of the runner, watch the race, and examine a graph showing time versus distance. Students can use the activity to come to conclusions on the distance, speed, and time relationship. They can also use it to consider the graphical representation and the concept of slope.

Measuring the Circumference of the Earth

Through this online project, students learn about Eratosthenes and actually do a similar measurement that yields a close estimate of the earth’s circumference. It’s a challenge! Even with access to only one computer, students can obtain data from other schools that lie approximately on their own longitude. Careful instructions guide the students in carrying out the experiment and analyzing the data collected. The project also provides activities, reference materials, online help, and a teacher area.

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?

Students first collect data from their household members and their classmates and then determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. They compare their average to the average amount of water used per person per day in other parts of the world. Through the Internet, they can collect and share information with other students from around the country and the world. A teacher’s guide is included as well as guidelines on how students can publish reports, photos, or other work directly to the project web site.

Accessing and Investigating Population Data

In these activities, students use census data available on the web to examine questions about population. They also formulate their own questions. For example, in one section they analyze statistics from five states of their choice, develop specific research questions using the data, and create three graphs to compare and contrast the information.

The Handshake Problem

This two-lesson unit allows students to discover patterns in a fictional but real-world scenario: How many handshakes occur when the nine Supreme Court justices shake hands with each other? Students explore—through a table, a graph, and finally an algebraic formula—the number of handshakes in any size group. A second pattern is explored, that of triangular numbers; again, students generalize the pattern with variables. The lessons are well illustrated and include background information for the teacher.

These problems require patience and analytical thinking, even the easiest of them. I would not give such problems without having prepared my students with the needed tools to do them, if not before they start the work, then as they’re doing it. As Ellen Berg put it, “I’m not talking about failing to scaffold instruction or give kids input. Of course we want to do that. What I’m talking about is resisting the urge to fix things for them instead of asking more questions to get them thinking. I’m talking about sometimes just telling them, ‘I know you can do this,’ and walking away.”

Another teacher who feels that we need to help math students less is Dan Meyer, a high school math teacher. This 11-minute talk, Math Needs a Makeover, begins with: “I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it.” From there he moves to actual examples of textbook math versus ways to present real, hard thinking problems. Worth watching!

Citation: From Teacher Magazine [Teacher Update], Wednesday, May 26, 2010. See

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 Post updated 4/12/2012.