Hands-on Math with Howie: Candy Calculations
Welcome to the first in a series of posts featuring fun, hands-on math projects you can do with your elementary math students. Each of these projects can be done with a minimum of fuss and expense in your classroom. I’ll share 3 projects per post, each with a special theme. Every project has been tested in my own classroom for FQ (fun quotient) and SML (sneaky math learning).
Math can be fun – as long as it’s not just about memorizing facts and procedures. The key is to make it meaningful. Students need to see a purpose behind what you want them to do. In this week’s projects, students apply their knowledge of place value to design a jelly bean mosaic, use multiplication and proportional thinking to figure out how many licorice strands will support their body weight, and use perimeter and area to plan and build a city made out of sugar cubes.
As you lead these projects with your students, make sure to allow plenty of opportunity for students to fail and try again – more about that in the next post. For now, here are this week’s Fun Math Projects. Our theme – Candy Calculations—brings 3 math projects with a candy theme. And be assured, these projects are all 100 percent kid tested and kid approved!
Code Breaker: Jelly Bean Mosaics (Place Value & Base 10)
Almost everyone has a favorite flavor when it comes to jelly beans--coconut is my favorite. But what happens when those sugary-sweet morsels become more than a snack? In this exercise, students use jelly beans to design a secret code, and the fun just keeps on growing.
Our first project, Code Breaker: Jelly Bean Mosaics, is great at helping learners understand place value in the Base 10 system. There is an artistic component and a mystery component, and every time I have presented it to my students, everyone in the room had a great time and learned.
Here’s how it works: Students use jellybeans to design a piece of mosaic artwork that represents a hidden number. Students use at least 4 different colored jellybeans, and each color represents a different value in the Base 10 system (tenths, ones, tens, hundreds, etc.)
Creating the artwork is half the fun. Students might make flowers, baseball fields or faces (maybe a Mona Beana Lisa?) Guessing the secret value is the other half!
Licorice Strength Analysis (Multiplication & Proportional Thinking)
Our next sweet project features licorice rope. You may occasionally find a kid that likes the black licorice, and quite a few that like the strawberry-flavored red licorice variety. But you’d be hard-pressed to find any kid that doesn’t love our Licorice Strength Analysis, featuring multiplication and proportional thinking.
Through a series of experiments, students learn how to measure the tensile strength of licorice strands, from a stack of books to a homemade basket full of weights. Once they discover the strength of a single strand and multiple strands, the real fun begins.
A student will be chosen, and the other students will hold a contest to predict the number of strands needed to hold his or her weight. Methodology will be discussed, and all work will be shown. How many strands will it take? Who will be the ultimate contest winner?
Want to get crazy? How many strands would you need to suspend the entire class? How about an elephant? The Empire State Building?
Sugar Cube City (Perimeter & Area)
Not only is our third project one of the sweetest, but it is also one of the most fascinating. Called Sugar Cube City, it uses sugar cubes to create a “blueprint” around a perimeter of a sugar cube house, and teaches learners the concept of perimeter, area, and using a scale model.
These are real life skills your students will be learning, and it’s so much fun to boot! And once they’ve mastered their houses, why stop there? Your kids can use sugar cubes to design and build a whole city, including the school, church or synagogue, and of course the shopping mall!
All the projects in this column are simple to set up, have little or no cost, and absolutely everyone can participate. And after many years of teaching, I can personally guarantee the fun! Oh, and just a few words of caution about one of the projects. Half the fun of the licorice project is eating the strands of licorice afterwards, so you may want to pick up the strawberry variety. Other than that, download the free projects, have fun, and drop me a line and let me know how it’s going. You can reach me at howie [at] 10storymath.com.
About the author
Howie Templer is the Chief Project Designer at 10storymath, a Chicago-based firm that develops project-based math supplements for elementary schools. He taught elementary school in the Chicago area for 12 years, developing expertise in integrating project-based learning experiences into core academic curricula. He is a recipient of the Golden Apple Award and was a 2018 finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching.