## Name That Shape

Mia drew a shape with exactly 4 sides.

It has 4 lines of symmetry.

Mia drew a shape with exactly 4 sides.

It has 4 lines of symmetry.

- Write 23 X’s on a piece of paper.
- On your turn you can erase or take away 1, 2, or 3 of the X’s.
- Turns alternate. You cannot skip your turn.
- The person who erases or takes away the last X wins.

I’ve always felt a connection to Punxsutawney Phil because my birthday is on February 2nd, the same day folks watch to see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow! One year, I noticed:

- Phil’s height = 51.2 cm
- Suzanne’s height = 5′ 4″
- Suzanne’s shadow length at Gobbler’s Knob = 76.2 cm

We talk a lot about the problem-solving process here at the Math Forum and try to develop resources that will help teachers help their students get better at problem solving. We discuss how to encourage students to share their thinking (such as through Noticing and Wondering) and how to cultivate classrooms that value those thoughts and ideas as much as answers. But if we take a look at our own “problem solving” product, the Problems of the Week, we have to acknowledge that there isn’t so much support for process, starting with the “Compose Answer” button that appears at the bottom of each problem. Oops!

We have considered a number of possibilities, including an option (chosen by the teacher) to show just the scenario for a problem and then have fields in which students can submit their Noticings and Wonderings. That sort of thing would require some significant programming time, so while we are working on putting it in place (I’ll blog about it more before we get too far), we are first going to support the PoW process through some wording changes in the submission process. We’ve come up with some possibilities and wonder if anyone has alternative ideas.

On a problem page, it says, “Compose Answer”, which of course implies you have “an answer”. We’re thinking of changing that to “Submit Ideas”, which seems a bit more welcoming to submissions that might not actually contain an answer yet (or ever).

Once you get to the “submission” page, there are four spots we’re suggesting alternative wording:

**Original:**Credit for this problem will be given to ….**New:**Credit for these ideas will be given to ….

**Original:**Summarize your answer in a sentence or two**New:**Summarize your ideas in a sentence or two.

**Original:**Explain how you solved the problem. Include your math.**New:**Explain your ideas and how you figured them out.

**Original:**If you’ve created an image as part of your solution, you may upload it here.**New:**If you’ve created an image that illustrates some of your ideas, you may upload it here.

What do you think? Would these sorts of changes convey “process” to your students? Do you have any other suggestions?

During the February 26th MoMath Masters Tournament, @MoMath1 tweeted, “No googling – how many sides on an enneagon?” We thought, “Hey! We know enneagons!” If you don’t, maybe this scenario from a problem we first used in 1998 will give you some hints (as well as some ideas for something you could do with one).

Extend the sides AB and ED of the regular enneagon ABCDEFGHI until they intersect.

## Baseball Cards

Third grade students at Hanover Street School made this awesome video as a Free Scenario based on the Math Forum problem called “Baseball Cards.” We are so excited to share their video!

The students’ video is based on the Math Forum Baseball Cards Scenario [PDF]

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the idea of a “modeling curriculum.” Not as in *America’s Next Top Model *and also not as in the teacher models the thinking and the student learns from watching and trying it themselves. A modeling approach to teaching science and math means that the students work together to develop better and better conceptual models to explain situations. So in physics, you might roll two objects down a ramp and try to make a mathematical model to describe what was going on. At first you might include the weight of the balls in your model, but then you might observe that two objects with different weights behave the same, and so your model would change based on new data and new understanding.

Some of the studies of this kind of teaching show us that students come into situations with models already in their heads — they already have ideas about how balls fall, for example. Their models might not be the most accurate or easiest to use, and so as they encounter new situations and new demands, they change their models. While that’s happening, students might use lots of different competing ideas at once. One minute the same kid will go from making really accurate predictions about two balls of different weights rolling down an incline, but then say that gravity will make a bowling ball fall faster than a beach ball.

This week’s AlgPoW, Filling Glasses, asked students to match graphs of water level vs. time of glasses being filled at a steady rate, to pictures of the glasses. Students used many different models for thinking about the problem:

- Try to match the shape of the graph to the shape of the glass (e.g. count the wavy parts, look for straight graphs for straight glasses).
- Relate the skinniness of the glass to speed.
- Relate the skinniness of the glass to the steepness of the graph.
- Relate the height of the glass as a whole to the maximum height reached in the graph.
- Relate the skinniness of the graph to speed at which the glass fills and the speed at which the glass fills to the steepness of the graph.

What was most interesting, though, was the students who used different strategies at different moments. Students who are in the middle of learning often switch models based on small details or when a problem seems easier or harder for some reason.

Like this:

For this problem, you have to really visualize the glasses and their shape.

First, I looked at glass A. It starts out skinny for a tiny bit, then there is a huge bulge before it is a little skinnier. So the height would rise quickly for the shortest amount of time, then go slower, then finally go a little faster. I visualized the graph to be a slightly zigzaggy line that was not too tall. Graph 4 did not have any zigzags, and graphs 2 and 3 went too high. So, graph 1 matched with glass A.Glass B is like a funnel, starting skinny and getting wider and wider as the top draws nearer. So the height would rise quickly at first and get slower and slower. Since there are no bulges in glass 2, the graph it matched up to would have to be zigzag-free. And the only graph without zigzags is graph 4.

Finally, glass C starts skinny, gets wider, gets skinnier, and then gets wider. The water will go fast at first, then slower, then faster, then slower. Graphs 2 and 3 are very similar, but only graph 3 starts out fast.

The student sometimes is looking for zig-zags, basically matching the shape of the glass to the shape of the graph. But in the case where there ar

e two possible zig-zag graphs that could match one glass, the student switches to a (more robust?) model of thinking about the width -> speed relationship (and maybe implying a speed -> steepness relationship?).

Or this:

Glass A= First of all glass A is the shortest so the line on the graph would be less steep. Also, since the glass is kind of round, at first the water would pour fast then gradually pour slower then after you get to the middle the water would gradually pour faster.

The thinking about how steepness relates to the shortness of the glass seems like a very different way of thinking about steepness than the speed idea that she uses after “Also,…”

Or finally:

i figured this out becauause if you look at the glasses and the graphs. the arches in the graphs are like the glasses when get bigger because you need to have more water and then it would fill it up.

There’s the shape kind of thinking there: “the arches in the graphs are like the glasses” but also some idea of the change in width of the glass affecting how it fills up.

**Some “Filling Glasses” links** in case you are interested:

- The problem [requires a Math Forum PoW Membership].
- Information about accessing “Filling Glasses″ (and all our current PoWs) for two weeks with a free Math Forum trial account.
- Information about becoming a Math Forum Problems of the Week Member. Compare prices – consider starting with a $25 membership giving you access to all of this year’s Current PoWs — and now you can create 36 student logins as well!

Last year brought us the unveiling of the Primary Problem of the Week, a series of PoWs geared towards the youngest problem solvers. This year, we’re focusing on older students, students who have studied math beyond Algebra I and Geometry. We will be publishing 20 problems from our Trig & Calc library to make them available to all teachers with a Current PoW membership. Each problem will have links to enhanced teacher materials (strategy alignments, Online Resource Pages, Scenario-Only versions of the problems, and Teacher Packets including Common Core alignments).

We’re excited to be able to offer these problems to our Current PoW members so that teachers of higher-level math can be part of the Current PoW community. As the name suggests, most of the problems can be solved using techniques from Trigonometry or Calculus. However, many of the problems can be solved in multiple ways: with right-triangle trig that students may have learned in early grades; with algebraic techniques and software; or they draw on content areas like Discrete Math or Probability. So these problems can also be extra challenges for students who aren’t yet in the Trigonometry or Calculus class.

This year, we don’t plan to feature highlighted solutions for the Trig & Calculus PoW on the PoW site (teachers can always see sample successful solutions with different strategies in the Teacher Packet). If, however, we do get interesting submissions, we’ll certainly be blogging about them here! And if we get to a consistent level of submissions, we’ll be excited to have highlighted solutions from the Trig & Calculus PoW next year!

So we’d love to have you check out the current Trig & Calculus PoW, “Building Boxes,” a PoW that can be approached by older students using derivatives or by middle-school students through careful tables and virtual manipulatives. View the Online Resources Page in the “blue box” on the PoW for a link to an applet that will help students from middle school through calculus make sense of this problem.

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