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Mr. Egeler's classroom is festive with one-of-a-kind cellophane kites. They hang in rows from the ceiling and wave as students walk below..
"Seventh graders designed kites as part of unit on quadrilaterals," said Mr. Egeler. "They were free to do what they wanted as long as the shapes were symmetrical." The resulting squares, rhombuses, trapezoids, pairs of acute triangles, and kites were painted, and demos scheduled on John Jay's Contest Field.
"The secret is in the surface area," said Mr. Egeler, "That, and the angle that the bridle is attached."
The seventh grade kite project bridges the Big Ideas Math unit on quadrilaterals and the following one on calculating the surface area of various geometric shapes.
Mr. Egeler met his seventh period, seventh grade math class at the door, handing each student a number as they entered the classroom.
“We're doing a surface area lab,” he said. “This is your seat assignment today.”
The desks had been moved into seven groups of four. On top of each grouping of desks, a box with a number on it held four calculators and two shapes.
The students found their tables and began taking the shapes out of the box. Some found a Morton Salt cylinder and a triangular Toblerone chocolates prism, others found a Rubik cube or pyramid, and a clear plastic rectangular prism. All were familiar friends, as the class had just finished a unit on calculating the surface area of these shapes.
“All you need on your desk is a pencil. I will give each group a lab data sheet,” said Mr. Egeler. “You will be working as a group, and graded as a group.”
A stopwatch on the whiteboard showed four minutes.
“You will have four minutes to pick a shape from the box, measure it, and calculate its surface area,” he said. “I will walk around and help you if you need it.”
Mr. Egeler gave the students four rules.
As soon as Mr. Egeler said, “Begin,” the room began to buzz with math talk.
“I'll measure its circles and sides,” said a student in the group that picked out the Morton’s Salt container.
“Use the formula,” said another. “Do you remember it?” Their hands shot up.
Mr. Egeler arrived. “The surface area of a cylinder is 2 × pi × r2 + pi × d × h.
“What do we do with this?” asked a student in another group, holding the Toblerone box.”
“The surface area is made of five shapes. Two triangles at each and, and three rectangles around the sides,” a group member reminded him.
“I know the formula?” said another, scribbling it down. The students knew there are multiple approaches to solve problems.
Around the room, seventh graders practiced collaborative discovery, helping each other measure, analyze and calculate.
Seven rounds of four minutes, plus instruction, fit neatly into the 40-minute period.
Last year, the district set up a comprehensive study of various math programs with the intention of adopting one for implementation in seventh and eighth grades.
The Middle School Math Committee selected Big Ideas Math because of its robust features that support all levels of students, from Skills Review and Basic Skills Handbook for students who are struggling to the Enrichment and Extension worksheets for advanced students. The program also has additional online materials which provides immediate feedback, extra practice problems, online homework checks, and live tutorials for some homework problems.
Big Ideas Math is published by Big Ideas Learning. It is created by Dr. Ron Larson, a professor at Penn State whose textbooks are known for their readability, accuracy, and real-life applications, and Dr. Laurie Boswell, an experienced math teacher. Big Ideas Math grew out of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Focal Points for K8 and the Common Core State Standards.