Middle school students sometimes come to math class with dread. They think of it as endless worksheets, seat time, and assessments. For many students, the work is hard. They don’t see themselves as math people. One way to reverse this trend is to infuse math learning with inspiration and innovation, with a healthy dose of growth mindset.
While teachers and districts have specific goals of math instruction and these are important, so is engaging, hands on, applied mathematics that can turn around negative math thinking and provide developmentally appropriate learning environments for early adolescents.
One way to do this is Maker Fridays.
On Fridays, after a 4 days of challenging on paper math concepts, students are invited to create. We took our inspiration from Caine’s Arcade, an all cardboard arcade built by 9 year old boy in East Los Angeles. After watching this, the sixth grade students wanted to create a cardboard fair for the school– and ask for donations to their end of school overnight field trip from those who attend. This created an authentic audience and task, driven by student interest and motivation.
First, students developed interest based teams. Some wanted to build cars, some a small reading house, and others, arcade games. Another team wanted to take pictures and video to create a presentation about the project to share with the school. The teams were formed. Students began collaborating and creating designs on paper. Next, we procured massive amounts of cardboard and tools. Students began creating their designs. Math and engineering concepts that emerged were measurement, geometry, force, and motion. Students had to plan, measure, visualize, and create. Take a look at some of their work in progress:
- Embrace the mess. Students are building teamwork skills, applied math concepts, and having fun. Your classroom will be a lively hive of activity (and piles of cardboard). Wouldn’t you rather have that than a sterile but orderly space? If you set an end date such as a fair or sharing time with the community, you can look forward to a cleaner space after that time.
- Do Maker Friday when you have at least a full hour. Students get into a flow and need time to develop their ideas and create.
- Connect Maker Friday activities to math concepts. Allow students time to reflect on their learning at the end of each class and share it with the other students. During instruction and discussion, connect concepts from the creating to current math instructional goals and learning.
- Let students lead the way. Student centered learning allows students to use their own ideas and see them through. Even if you think it won’t work, the students just might surprise you!
- It’s all about the process, not the product. While building something that works and is fun to use is important, it is about the learning during the process that matters. Promote a growth mindset that embraces failure as progress toward innovation and deep learning.
- Students could utilize technology before the building time, in the design stages. Students could create models of their designs using Google Sketchup or other software, then transfer the designs into cardboard.
- More math concepts could be integrated as well, such as angle measurements, physics, and different aspects of geometry.
- Maker Fridays could have different themes, too, such as building hexagons, bridges, outhouse designs, you name it!
Students love Maker Friday, and through it, they learn that math can be creative, innovative, fun and engaging. Listen to what a few had to say about it here. Maybe the tide is turning. What innovations have you tried to keep math lively and engaging?