The Stacking Paper Problem

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Do you find yourself teaching kids using the same old worksheets and 100-year-old archaic methods?  Don't get me wrong, those archaic methods are tried and true for a good reason, but we need to be careful to give kids problems that are relevant to them and give them clear parameters to work with.  What if, instead of shoving yet another story problem typed in Times New Roman font on stark white sheet of printer paper asking kids how many reams of copy paper can be stacked to the ceiling of a room "so many feet" high, we made this story-problem become a life problem?  That is, why not bring it to life?

Take Mr. Kyle Pierce, for instance. He gives his students a problem:

Reams of copy paper need to be stacked to the ceiling.  How many can I stack? Yes, this is the same problem being presented above with a pencil alone, but read on as you watch how Mr. Pearce piques his student's interests with other resources:

He then gives them a few different photos and videos that disclose pertinent information such as that found in the above photos.  Students use these visuals to figure out the math computation that is needed.  They solve the problem, and can even check their work using more of Mr. Pierce's videos which shows the actual problem being executed. 

He follows up this assignment with the following questions:

  • Why was this not a perfectly linear pattern?
  • What do you suppose happened to cause the pattern to vary slightly from the linear pattern?
  • What sources of human error could have contributed to this?

And when students finish answering these important questions, he has them approach the problem differently.  In the real world, problems arise, and situations change. This new problem illustrates the possibility of an actual change in needs happening in a real-life scenario.  Here are his new questions:

  1. What would happen to the equation if we stacked the paper in the same room, but on this table instead of on the floor?
  2. Explain how you got your new equation and then use it to determine how many packages of paper you’d need to reach the ceiling in this new situation.

Are kids learning in Mr. Pierce's classes?  I have not had the privilege of attending one of his Secondary Math classes at the Greater Essex County District School, but you don't have to be a math genius to know that students are getting ahead with his leadership. 

What if we all changed our math approach and gave kids a real-life scenario to work through?  Try it this week!  Let me know how it works out for you and your students.