This Week in the Classroom: Rulers & Frames

Applied Math Made Easy, a hands-on, application-heavy curriculum designed by a pair of teachers from Wisconsin, has a number of great math labs and activities.  Using worksheets to convey directions and learning, the curriculum utilizes a conversationalist tone and “interactive reading” (their term, not mine) to let students learn middle school to high school level mathematics – about a 9th to 10th grade range.  I’ve co-taught with teachers who’ve used this curriculum and I can say this:  it works.  Incredibly well, when your students can read, understand and follow instructions at a high school level.

I don’t teach those kids.

So here’s what I do:  I take a look at the lab and find a focal point.   For example, reading rulers.  The act of reading a ruler supports numerous mathematical standards and the act of building a ruler provides a concrete experience for the student.  In this activity, students use 3/8″ lengths of pine to create thick “rulers” – they split the ruler into sixteenths using string.  They can then label each division they make – so along the way, the see how a whole can be split into parts and further into more parts.  Number sense, division, and differentiated learning all in one.  I had some successes, and some near successes.

A near miss.  This student can split his work into eights, but loses his way splitting things into sixteenths.  In context of his neurological differences, this is consistent with his mathematical competency - somewhere between third and fifth grade.

A near miss. This student can split his work into eights, but loses his way splitting things into sixteenths. In context of his neurological differences, this is consistent with his mathematical competency – somewhere between third and fifth grade.

After building these rulers, we built picture frames.  Again, an exercise in measurement and utilizing fractions.  In between the ruler project and these frames, my students spent a lot of time manipulating common fractions – into decimals, adding fractions with like denominators, measurement and more measurement, both in real world situations and abstract number problems.  Eventually, we built these pieces.

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My guys improved tremendously.  All read their rulers correctly, to the eighth.  They  were less successful with their calculations, getting about 1/2 to 3/4 of the problems correct.  Way better than their 12.5% to 25% they answered correctly in the pre-unit activities.  Next project: the try square for our interactive display at Houston’s Mini Maker Faire.

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Make it safe & keep the rubberside down this weekend.  In the shop, I have a new apprentice – my youngest brother-in-law is spending his holiday break building frames with me.  Seems you can take the woodshop away from the teacher, but you can’t move the teacher from the woodshop.