“Your class makes me hungry, Ms. M”

I heard this comment today in class by a student who is not “mine.” Our middle school classes are split. The other math teacher is at a conference so we had a combined class toady. She will do the same for me next month when I go to Boston for NCTM. Woot! Anyway – even though the other kiddos had me in 5th grade, it’s been awhile now that they are big, bad 8th graders. The kids all know me and that I’m a little crazy. My classes will roll with anything I throw at them without worrying too much about it. The other kiddos were a little unsure why in the world we were doing what we were doing 🙂

A few days ago Andrew Gael asked a question on Twitter: 

I responded:

Last night my math book club met. We were reading the chapter on “notice and wonder” from the book, Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray. I brought up Andrew’s question about the phones and we spent some time with everyone finding appropriate pictures on their phones. It was such perfect timing that these conversations coincided the way they did!

Last week after meeting to plan for the aforementioned book club, I found myself at Target at 10:00pm buying aluminum foil, toothpicks, marshmallows, etc. for our first math club meeting the next day. I grabbed a box of goldfish because that has been our traditional snack over the years. Over the weekend I was at Costco where I picked up another box of goldfish crackers.

I swear I have a point….

So back to this morning…. As soon as I walked into my classroom, I grabbed both boxes of goldfish and put them next to each other and snapped a picture. My colleague walked by and gave me a “what are you doing” kind of look. So I went out and explained things to her. Here’s the photo: IMG_2719

So, what do you notice? What do you wonder? (btw- see for more information on the book and the strategy. Though, let’s be honest, if you’re reading this I’m 99% sure you’re already familiar).

I had planned to do Mathalicious lessons with all the combined classes today. However, inspiration struck and I threw together a quick sheet of paper with 4 boxes – what do you notice, what do you wonder, what information do you need, and a blank one for work. When first the 8th graders came in we started rolling. First, I had a discussion with them about the whole question that Andrew had posed and I showed them the picture that I had shared. We shared a few questions about the cupcakes to get them warmed up to this idea. Next, I took out the 2 boxes of goldfish and passed out the sad little handout I had made. The kids worked to put down that observations and questions. When we shared, of course many things were silly – the fish is wearing glasses, why is the fish wearing glasses, do the fish really smile, etc. But many also took the extremely silly premise seriously. I jotted down the wonderings and we discussed which ones were mathematical. We ended up choosing “how many fish are in each box” as the question we would pursue. It wasn’t the question I wanted (at least not for 8th grade), but we went where the class took us. We discussed the needed information and they got started. Granted – this was a very simple task for them, but that was so not the point. As I circulated a few kids finished pretty quickly. I asked them to find out which was the better deal – Costco or Target. They asked me for the costs and continued working.

Full disclosure – it was a crazy day. There was the novelty of being in the same room for math, they were in free dress, they’d just finished taking their graduation pictures in their gowns,  etc. So ya – goldfish discussion was about the best we were going to accomplish today! But the point was, the day was going to be difficult since we aren’t exactly on the same topics in our classes. I did not want the time to be wasted, so I wanted to share with them something that has inspired me over the past few years since I first heard Dan Meyer speak at NCTM in Denver. Ever since then I have really tried to look at the world through my math-rimmed glasses. I try to keep curiosity at the forefront of my mind and find ways to explore the math of silly and simple ideas…. like 2 boxes of goldfish and a display of cupcakes! When I first heard Dan speak, I came back and was telling my class about it (it was the same kids – they were in 6th at the time). A few of them made me this: IMG_2370

It hangs in my classroom front and center and I like to think of it as a guiding statement!

We moved on to try to start the Pizza Pi lesson from Mathalicious, but unfortunately ran out of time. I’m pretty sure the cupcake, pizza, goldfish combo was what led to the original comment at the beginning of this post 🙂

As the day went on, the goldfish question was repeated in 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. I was fascinated to see the different comments and questions that were made at each level. It was so interesting because it was so obvious in their comments what topics were swirling around in their minds. My 6th graders wanted to know all about the ratios of chocolate to vanilla cupcakes and ratios of ones with toppings to ones without. I think I even heard a salt to goldfish ratio question! The 7th graders were all about talking volume and measurement. I loved it. It made it so clear to me how such an open-ended question can be made to apply to all different classes. How I can relate my goldfish to factoring polynomials? well that’s a horse of a different color. Anyway, all the classes did a super great job. I was probably most impressed with my 5th graders, however. This is the first time they have done something like this and the actual question we answered (same as in 8th) was much more on the level for them. My 5th grade has 36 students and I have never seen them all as engaged and involved in one task as they were today. I was super proud of them.

So, while the 8th grader may have said my class made him hungry after the discussion of cupcakes, goldfish, and pizza, I hope the greater thing that all the students came away with today was a hunger to find their own math-rimmed glasses and to approach the mundane with a little spark of curiosity!