As we worked, we focused on a number of school scenarios that were written in both word form and in mathematical expressions. One scenario caught their interest which was the opportunity for every fifth grader to be an anchor at our weekly school assembly.
The problem asked students to figure out how many of the almost 70 fifth grade students this year would get one chance to serve as anchor and how many would get two chances given the fact that the students serve in teams of four and that assembly occurs on every Monday we have school. I gave students some general statistics in this regard, but one young girl wanted to be more accurate. In fact, she told me that she had figured out this problem earlier in the year because she thought her class was getting less of an opportunity to serve than other classes.
To meet the young student's request I printed a school calendar so she could get an accurate count of the Mondays that we're in school and Mondays that we have school assembly as we don't have school assembly during standardized testing weeks.
Teams of students grappled with the problem in a large number of ways. They wrote expressions, computed numbers, and tried to decide if their answers were correct. Then after getting correct calculations, I challenged the students to write an algorithm that the principal could use every year to determine how many children would get one chance to serve and how many would have more than one chance. Several students began to eagerly insert variables into expressions to create these algorithms. It was awesome.
As we continue to practice computation and study a large number of math concepts and problem solving skill, I'll continue to use real-world and real-school scenarios in our efforts. I'll give students a chance to create algorithms to apply to these scenarios, and I'll offer them the chance to identify other problems and scenarios in their life at school and elsewhere which can be solved with expressions and algorithms. This was a wonderful turning point in the math year.