The Common Denominator

Last Friday I did a project with one of my classes that I have always wanted to do but never found the time for. When I returned from Winter break I noticed that my grade 10 students were ahead of where I planned to be. This was a perfect opportunity for us to put the learning outcomes behind us and ‘play’ with the mathematics.

I created a simple project where students were in charge of finding and researching a math topic that they found interesting. I wanted them to see math for the beauty and mystery it could truly be. I included a number of different topics to spur student interest but ultimately the door was left open to them. They were given a couple classes to prepare and on Friday they presented.

I have given projects to my students before but never have I made a project pass or fail. I chose to go in this direction because I wanted the focus to be on learning rather than planting, nurturing, and harvesting marks. Students would pass if they had done work that was at an A or B level and students would Fail if they didn’t and be asked to try again until it was at a satisfactory level. I have taken pass/fail courses in University before and experienced interesting results. Originally I thought since we were not playing the marks game I wouldn’t try as hard but in reality it was the opposite. Since I had more freedom I often took most risks and as a result learned more than when I created a cookie cutter project to satisfy the professor. Thankfully my students also took some risks and we had some fantastic results.

These are the projects that absolutely blew my mind and made the day one I will never forget:

  • Fermat’s Last Theorem – Are you kidding me? Grade 10 students understanding and talking about Fermat’s last theorem!?!?! It was a thing of beauty. A concept as tough as it comes in mathematics (much past my understanding) and this group of students waded through the notation and mathematical jargon to discover what it was really about. Pure mathematics at is best. AMAZING!
  • Math in Nature – We learned about Phi from a group and how this mysterious number exists in shells, pine-cones  and sunflowers. They discussed how it evolves from the Fibonacci sequence and that this ratio even exists in the body…. CREEPY!
  • Deal or no Deal – I had a pair of students who talked about the math behind deal or no deal, one of my favourite game shows despite Howie Mandel.  We learned when to take the deal or not to and even got to try out the game. SO MUCH FUN!
  • Zero – A group of three discussed the importance of the number zero and how it has evolved over time. Their understanding of the topic was beautiful. One of the young men was so into it he was practically losing his mind. He was talking to the class like a mad scientist and had me in stitches at the back of the class laughing with tears in my eyes. I wish these guys could teach all day…BRILLIANT!
  • Vi Hart – My mathematical love…this group demonstrated a number of her amazing videos including ones I had never seen before like the Mobius strip withfruit by the foot. We also did the Binary hand dance which was life changing. YES, LIFE CHANGING!
  • Ted Ed – One group discussed a video by my fellow tweep Jac de Haan on why competitors open their store next to one another. I loved it, the girls took a map of the city and used their understanding of this video to show how it would work in our own city in terms of coffee shops and car dealerships. We all learned something that I think many had wondered about but didn’t truly understand. NEVER KNEW THAT!
  • Magic Tricks – Who doesn’t love magic? A pair of young ladies hit a couple tricks out of the park. They were able to predict a volunteers age and determine a secret card all by crunching some numbers.  MATHEMAGIC!
  • Mental Math Techniques – A pair showed the class a number of different techniques to multiple and divide large numbers in your head. I had no idea how much fun these would be. One of the young ladies presenting kept telling us how happy these little tricks made her, and I agree they made me happy too. SO HAPPY!
  • Kakuro – I have played this game for years once I got bored of Sudoku, it’s basically a number crossword. They showed us how to play the game, tips and tricks, and then we had a Kakuro-off where everyone solved a puzzle as quickly as they could. EXCITEMENT!
  • The Golden Ratio – This group also presented on the number Phi with a focus on the human body. They found a free App that takes a picture of you and uses the golden ratio to tell how close your face is to being ‘perfect’. Mother always told me I was handsome but I only got a 4.1 out of 10. This led to some good laughs. The most concerning fact is that I had a 6.2 the class before, my beauty was regressing at an alarming rate! I NOW NEED COUNSELLING!

This project was a huge success, I had a couple students in another class working on the side and they were begging that they could do this in their class. I am not sure I have ever had more fun in a single school day. The one common denominator between this day and some of my other favourite and most effective classes was that there was more of the students and less of me. Handing over the reins in my practice has produced some impressive results, Friday was no different.


About flippingmath

Math Teacher, Flipper, Blue Jays Fan
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2 Responses to The Common Denominator

  1. Sascha Sciandra says:

    With Fermat and primes you could bring cryptography into the discussion and how primes dominate web security and why.

  2. I know it’s too late, but I like Phoebe for the same reason as your student. Fibonacci was the guy that taught me to love maths!

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