Before winter break, my students, along with two additional classes, created holiday art pieces to hang in a local grocery store. As a "thank you," the store liaison dropped off several bags of cookies and juice for us to enjoy. It happened to be right at the start of our math block and the beginning of a long Friday afternoon stretch with no specialists, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to scrap my previous plans and practice some applicable problem solving.
Before I get on with this story, I'm going to back up a little. In my PLC, my partner and I have been learning more about teaching our students persistence when they are problem solving. We gained inspiration from this video and have been playing around with Problem of the Month. As a result, I've been more intentional in how I approach my instruction, paying careful attention to the the types of conversations I have with my students, as well as the tasks themselves. Even with all this, there's something about Friday afternoons that just don't get along with my problem solving plans. Perhaps students are tired at the end of a long week. Or maybe they feel intimidated by the task at hand. Either way, I've experienced enough trying math lessons on a Friday afternoon to know it usually doesn't end well. So when the cookies arrived, I knew it could go either way.
I chose to proceed, and here's what happened:
First, we determined possible questions to be solved. They unanimously settled on finding out the number of cookies each student would receive.
Next, teams noted known information that would help them solve the problem - the number of bags of cookies (6), the number of cookies in each bag (18), and how many people needed cookies given a handful of kids with food allergies and a snacky teacher with a sweet-tooth (25 - 3 + 1).
Then, students got to work figuring out the task. Inspired by their sugary reward, groups knew they had to collaborate and communicate effectively. I visited with each group, coaching as needed. I was proud that all groups realized this was a multi-step problem utilizing many mathematical skills we had been practicing in class. As students figured out the total number of cookies (108). They then had to determine how many cookies each student would receive. Kids continued to work together and discuss possible strategies and next steps, still fired up by their end prize. Using a variety of interesting strategies, groups calculated that each person would get 4 cookies and there would be 16 remainders. Early finishers were encouraged to keep sharing the remaining cookies, working now with fractional parts.
Finally, after 45 minutes of group work, I called everyone back together to debrief. I joked that we had just experienced The Best Friday Problem Solving EVER, praising them for their persistence and collaboration. Students felt good, too, knowing they had applied their math skills correctly and had worked well with their teams. They genuinely had a great time problem solving and we celebrated that. As a reward, they'd get their 4.5 cookies at the end of the day.
No less than five minutes later, a student teacher from one of the other participating classrooms enters my room looking for her class' share of the cookies and juice. It turns out that I had made a major miscalculation. I assumed the store liaison had visited the other teachers, too. The six bags of cookies were to be shared among three classrooms, not just one.
I laughed and my students groaned. The Universe had just handed us the punchline to a Friday afternoon joke. You mean we did all that work for NOTHING?! Are we going to have to start over?! You mean we don't get four cookies?! I should have known it was too good to be true for a Friday afternoon!