Missing the Point

Teaching decimals to young students can be tricky. Learning them can be even trickier.

I have spent years teaching this concept to upper-elementary students. At first, I would grimace at the thought of starting the decimals unit. Through trial and error, however, I found an easier path to teaching this concept to mastery. It begins with the very first day when the teacher introduces decimals…it begins with missing the “point.”

Read the following sentence aloud to yourself: “Shannon went to the bakery and bought two cakes for $13.85.” Now, read that amount again. Did you ever say the word point? Why not?

We don’t read the word point in the dollar amount; instead, we read and say the word and. Thirteen dollars and eighty-five cents. Think about it: why do we use the word and instead of point?

The same rule needs to apply to all numbers that contain decimals. IT IS TIME TO LOSE THE POINT!

When we use the word “point,” the numbers after the decimal lose their meaning. For example, 13.85 is commonly read aloud as “thirteen point eight five.” This is true (because it is historically common), but what value does the eight or the five have? More importantly, can your students explain their values?

If we take out point and substitute it with and, we get a value. Now, “thirteen point eight five” becomes “thirteen and eighty-five hundredths.” Ahhh, so thirteen is the whole number, and I now have eighty-five hundredths of another whole.

While reading decimals this way may seem like more work and challenging at first, believe me, it will make application of decimals much easier in the long-run. Consider this: what do we expect students to master when it comes to decimals? Usually our list starts off with comprehending place value significance, comparisons, adding, subtracting, etc. Later down the road, you’ll want students to know conversion of decimals to fractions. If we teach students to read decimals CORRECTLY from the get-go, they will have much simpler tasks ahead of them.

Thin Mint Math

OK, so I have a looong back story to the reason behind this blog. If you came here just because you saw the words “thin mint” or “math” and want to get to the nitty-gritty of it all, scroll down…and then keep going…keep going… and stop when you see THIN MINT MATH.

It all started one afternoon, not long ago, when my husband and I were out shopping. We saw the local Girl Scout troop was selling their famous cookies, so we stopped to buy our annual allotment of minty chocolaty goodness. I know it sounds glutenous, but I told my husband he should buy 3 boxes for the two of us (you can always throw them in the freezer, I reasoned). He bought five.

We raced home with our cookies and quickly dug into the first box. Before we knew it, two boxes were demolished! I’m convinced he was sneaking a few after I had gone to bed, and I’m sure he suspected I was eating more than I claimed. Maybe our cat, Phoebe, is to blame. Anyways…bottom line…the cookies disappeared and we were down to almost half our stash.

I panicked. Shortly after our realization that Thin Mint Season (a.k.a. end of February – beginning of March) was rapidly drawing to a close, I began my search for a quality substitute for our favorite cookies. Where does one go to find creative solutions to cookie-related desperation?

That’s right. Pinterest. Search: “thin mint cookies.”

I found a lot of awesome homemade versions that claim to be just like the real deal. I couldn’t believe it. I clicked on a dozen pins that lead to Mommy Blogs, Bakery Blogs, Chef-Wannabe Blogs, and Food Indulgence Blogs. It looks like people have been trying to decode this secret recipe for years and, fortunately for us, they have shared these recipes online so everyone may benefit! Yay! I was so excited and couldn’t wait to try one (or all) of these recipes!

But, wait. Not so fast. Just as I was about to close up shop, I discovered a pin for “Thin Mint Puppy Chow.” Now, that may seem gross at first, until you realize what “Puppy Chow” is.

Puppy Chow is a cute nickname given to a Chex-mix recipe originally called Muddy Buddies®. Yes, it is so popular that it is a registered-trademark of Chex®. The original recipe basically calls for a melted chocolate/peanut butter mixture to be poured over a bowl full of Chex® , mixed up, and then covered with powdered sugar. (Want the recipe? Click HERE.)

Thin Mint Puppy Chow is a slightly different variation. Basically, remove peanut butter and add peppermint. End result? You got it: Thin Mint Cookies (or a heavenly flavor that closely mocks the Girl Scout treat).

Here is the Pinterest Thin Mint Puppy Chow pin that I clicked on. [Note: I slightly changed up the recipe, because as you’ll notice, the chocolate on the mix wasn’t mint chocolate. I wanted the Chex-mix to taste like Thin Mints without having to sacrifice any more of my GS stash.]

 

THIN MINT MATH

So, what does this have to do with math? Well, I believe that any type of cooking in the kitchen involves math, and this mini project-based lesson is no exception. If you have kiddos around who (A) enjoy cooking, (B) like to get a little messy, and (C) love Thin Mints, then this cooking/math activity is for them!

Let’s start off with measurement. I made a sample batch for this recipe and used the following:

1 Cup Rice Chex

1/2 Cup Baker’s Chocolate (melted according to box directions)*

2 Tbsp Confectioner’s Sugar (Powdered Sugar)

1/4 Tsp Peppermint Extract

(* Use white chocolate with green food coloring if you want to add some color to your mix, like in the picture up above. Or, you can use semi-sweet chocolate sans food coloring. Or both!)

Math supplies!

This recipe yields 1 cup of mix (like I said, just a sampling size). That was enough for my husband and I to split for dessert, but as you’ll notice in the original Muddy Buddies® recipe, it calls for 9 cups of Chex®. So, let’s move on to ratios and proportions. To convert my small batch size to a proportional, larger recipe, students will need to find proportional values of each ingredient. I suggest you start off by encouraging them to double all of the ingredients, or tripling them. Then start asking more complex questions: But what if I want to make a full, 9-cup batch? If each person eats 1/2 cup, and we have 20 guests, how much should I make? How much of each ingredient will I need?

After your young chefs decide on how much of each ingredient is needed, then you can begin baking! Following a recipe in steps is another lesson you can teach:

Step 1: Measure cereal into a large bowl and set aside.

Step 2: In a medium-size bowl, melt the chocolate (based on the directions on the box, approximately 1 minute) until smooth. Then, stir in peppermint extract and food coloring.

Step 3: Pour chocolate mixture over the cereal and gently stir, coating as much cereal as possible.

Step 4: Pour chocolate-covered cereal into a large zip-lock bag.

Step 5: Pour in powdered sugar. Close bag (tight!) and shake! (This is the fun part!) Shake until the powdered sugar has evenly covered the cereal. Pour mixture back into a bowl and Voila! Thin Mint Puppy Chow!

If you have some spare Thin Mints laying around and you want to chop them up and throw them in for good measure, I highly recommend it as it will only increase the deliciousness of this treat!

Other math lessons you can incorporate into Thin Mint Math:

Estimating costs: Go to the store and purchase the ingredients needed to make the dessert. Guess how much it will cost before you start shopping, and readjust your estimate as you wander the aisles picking up each ingredient. This is a great lesson in money, estimation, and economics!

Elapsed Time: Have a party starting soon? How much time will be needed to make the recipe before the guests arrive? (You can show them that the suggested time is 15 minutes. Since this is our first time making this recipe, should we allow for extra time? How long will it take us to clean up?)

Not to mention (but I will, anyway), this yummy lesson teaches math concepts like fractions, addition and multiplication.

Happy Mathing!

Oh, and by the way, you can follow me on Pinterest and find more math fun at www.pinterest.com/thatmathlady

The Benefits of Handheld Tech in the Classroom

I must admit something: one year ago, I was not an advocate of cell phones or tablets in the classroom. I naively felt that they were cause of distractions and were the source of evil that would prevent me from accomplishing my mission: teaching. However, since then, I have been awakened, my eyes have been opened, to a new world in which we live. I have learned, via my PLN on @Twitter and other social media sites, that handheld technology is not evil. It is my accomplice!

What sparks this thought? This Tweet that I recently read (and retweeted):

When you imagine a student sitting in a classroom all day long without access to an ounce of technology, you probably feel the same sense of suffocation that I do. Students in today’s tech-driven society can not be expected to “sit & get” all day long without an escape. Handheld technology allows for that escape – a brain break – and a way to access even more information than their teacher is feeding them.

There are many articles out there regarding the research of the benefits of technology in the workplace and the classroom. One article, written by Zoe Fox in April, 2012, Why CEOs Should Allow Facebook in the Workplace (Mashable.Com), gives CEOs takes on allowing social media (Facebook, in particular) in the workplace and a study conducted to reveal the benefits of surfing the web. “The study concludes that taking a break, particularly one spent browsing the Internet, should be encouraged by employers hoping to increase productivity.” Well, if adults need the break, shouldn’t the same be true for students?

I’m not suggesting a free-for-all when it comes to allowing students to use technology in the classroom. Quite the contrary because, like anything else that works in education, it must be structured. Many middle school and high school students, who come to school with phones and iPads, are already tapped in to some format of social media in our classes, anyway. If we give organized breaks that allow students that necessary thinking-escape, it could benefit us all. Students will be more productive, they won’t miss important instruction while trying to conceal their Internet-surfing under their desks, and they’ll respect the teacher who gives them those 5 minutes to check the latest e-mail, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. (Important Note: If you are going to allow tech brain breaks, just remember to create a student-teacher contract that clearly states the Do’s and Dont’s of these breaks. If a student violates the contract, you have the justified right to take that privilege away!)

Cell phones, tablets, and notepads (or laptops) can also be a huge help in accessing information. If the teacher is working with a student (or a small group) and other classmates need additional information on a topic of study, they have access to a plethora of new information right at their finger tips without having to interrupt the teacher. (Tip: Consider creating a class website, if you haven’t already, and posting links to helpful websites or videos that students should utilize while studying a particular unit.)

Afraid students will be tempted to reach into their pockets during class, even with the 5-minute break? Create a cell phone parking lot on student tables. Use masking tape or duct tape to create the “parking spots” where phones must be parked during class. Students can leave their phones – face down – in the parking spot until given permission to use them. Make this part of your classroom tech contract…if a student doesn’t use the spot appropriately, they lose their tech privileges!

At the end of the day, our goal is to reach each student and inspire them, educate them, and teach them how to balance responsibility and accountability. If we deny our students any technology in the classroom, yes, we make our lives easier; meanwhile, we are only hurting them by neglecting to teach one of life’s important lessons.

Kickstarter Education Projects

I was first introduced to Kickstarter by my husband last year. He stumbled upon the website after he had heard about a new video game console that was being developed…that is, only if it was “backed” by enough friends and followers via this website. Neat concept: you have a dream project, but need the public to front you the money to create it, so you present your concept on Kickstarter and Voila! If enough people buy into your project, you get the money to build, create, and design your heart out.

What happens if you don’t get enough supporters and you don’t achieve your financial goal by the deadline? Nothing. They don’t lose their money, which means you don’t get it, either. Either give up or try again. (You can find more information about how it all works on the Kickstarter 101 site.)

Many of the projects will give back in thanks for your support, too. When you find a project you like on the Kickstarter website, scroll down and look at the right-hand side of the page. You’ll see a list of ways the project creator will give back to you if you pledge a certain amount of money towards their dream. If you pledge enough money, it can be a win-win for everybody!

Teachers and educators have caught on to this and are also using Kickstarter to develop educational tools. You can find – and “back” – the creation of various apps, games, videos, websites, and MORE just by searching the site for keywords like “math” or “education.”

Here are a few examples of Kickstarter education projects for you to check out and support. If you like what you see, I highly recommend you go to Kickstarter and back these projects…and fast! Some of them only have a few days left before their deadlines!

A special shout out to Stephanie Glen (http://www.statisticshowto.com) for introducing me to her dream project, The Number Hunter!