Category: Five Minutes

Five Minutes – I wonder… Wednesday

Five Minutes – I wonder… Wednesday

At some point during the first quarter, I was in another 8th grade math teacher’s support class. The teacher asked me for a number, and I suggested 3435. When someone asked why I chose such a seemingly strange number, I told the class that 3435 was my third-favorite number. Again, someone asked why, so I asked everyone to raise each digit to the power of itself and add them all together. After clarifying precisely what I meant, students calculated 3^{3}+4^{4}+3^{3}+5^{5} and were surprised to find their answer to be 3435. I don’t recall exactly what happened next, but my colleague and I ended up briefly discussing how our students have trouble “wondering” about numbers, ideas, and objects in our world. I decided that I needed to challenge my students to wonder. This was the genesis of I wonder… Wednesday.

As I thought about ways to get my students wondering, I decided that I would display interesting or strange pictures on the screen and ask everyone what they wondered. At first, I tried to find pictures that would lend themselves to “wonderings” with a mathematical bent, but I soon began to include pictures that might not have any obvious mathematical properties or concepts attached to them. I saw I wonder… Wednesday as about more than just math. It was an opportunity for students to think about their world and all of the incredible things that happen on it.

Here is a sampling of I wonder… Wednesday images and notable responses.

Racing – This might be my favorite picture ever.

Sand sculpture – Amazing! Many students wondered how long this took to make.

An interesting lady – This picture speaks for itself!

Bridge – Good questions about steepness, height, and speed.

Throwing hats – “I wonder if it’s after Labor Day.”

Overall, I loved the questions my students asked. My students impressed me with the thoughtfulness of their “wonderings.” Many of them truly wanted an explanation for a certain phenomenon, a more detailed description of an object or location, or the context and background knowledge needed to interpret the picture. Perhaps the best part of I wonder… Wednesday was seeing students who rarely participated raise their hands and share their thoughts about an image. Whether insightful, funny, or just weird, the “wonderings” my students offered made for an awesome last five minutes each Wednesday we did this.

Interestingly, student response to I wonder… Wednesday was bimodal – they tended to love it or to hate it. Many students loved seeing what crazy pictures I found each week, even if they didn’t volunteer any questions. And quite a few students pushed themselves to wonder about every single image. Other students, however, found this activity entirely pointless. One student complained that she came to class to learn math, so I wonder… Wednesday was a waste of her time. On their end-of-year reflections, students responded that I should keep I wonder… Wednesday just as frequently as they suggested that I get rid of it. I guess strong reactions are better than no reaction at all!

So what, if anything, should I change about I wonder… Wednesday? I’ve thought about pushing students to ask more mathematical questions. I’ve also considered only displaying a single picture, coming up with a good mathematical question to ask, and estimating an answer. To be honest, though, I think these changes would diminish I wonder… Wednesday. Part of this activity’s joy lies in escaping math for a few minutes and just thinking about the world. I told my students once that it’s not too much to spend five minutes a week doing something unrelated to math that is good for their brains. I stand by that statement. Although I may do I wonder… Wednesday less frequently, it will definitely be part of my classroom this coming school year.

Five Minutes – Mystery Monday

Five Minutes – Mystery Monday

Because 6th, 7th, and 8th grades all run different schedules, we don’t have a bell to mark the beginning and end of each class period. That means I need to know the time! This year, I decided to set an alarm that would ring with five minutes to go in each class period. I had two goals: to make sure I ended class at the right time and to do something together as a class each day before we went our separate ways. I’ll write about all of the different routines in the coming days. Let’s start with Mystery Monday!

Mystery Monday came from silly beginnings. As I brainstormed different ways to end class, I searched for words starting with the same letter as the day. I did Mental Math Monday for a while and decided that we needed a change. Mystery Monday sounded awesome, so I had to give it a try! Of course, I had to figure out what Mystery Monday would actually involve. Here’s what the first day looked like…

“Okay everybody. I’m thinking of a whole number between 0 and 100. You get to ask me five yes-or-no questions. Then, I will choose one student to give the class’s answer.”

I had no idea what to expect. Maybe a group of 8th graders would find this too simple or too juvenile. Maybe five questions would be too many or not nearly enough. Maybe everyone would just be bored by the idea and not be interested at all. The results pleasantly surprised me.

“Is the number bigger than 50?”

“Are both digits the same?”

“Is the number even?”

“Does the number have a 1 in it?”

I received a lot of interesting questions. Many of the questions helped narrow down the choices, although not always in the most efficient way. One student started her class’s questioning, for example, with “Is the number bigger than 25?” Sometimes students asked questions that didn’t fit the information or didn’t actually narrow down the possibilities. Students didn’t always think through their questions, and not everyone participated. But for the most part, the class was engaged. As with many activities, several students played the largest (sometimes dominant) roles. Every student, however, seemed to think about the mystery and felt like he/she could contribute. Mystery Monday turned out to be a success.

As the weeks passed, I added complications. I went from two-digit to three-digit to four-digit numbers, and I even tried using a pair of numbers or a letter. I decided to keep score between class periods to make Mystery Monday into a competition. I rewarded the 3rd quarter winners with donuts and the 4th quarter winners with pizza. It was a fun addition to a day that often ends up being the most challenging of the week.

So what would I change? Although some students loved Mystery Monday and most students found it reasonably engaging, I know that I never reached 100% (or even 75%) participation and engagement. I considered breaking Mystery Monday down within class periods. Rather than have the entire class figure out the number, each of the 7 tables within the classroom would attempt to figure it out on their own. I didn’t try this because I never came up with a good way to manage the abundance of questions I’d have to answer. I plan to keep Mystery Monday this year, but I’m definitely considering ways to get more students involved. Let me know if you have any ideas!