MTBoS Blogging Initiative Week 3: Better Questions

By Kristina

You’re planning a lesson and you try to come up with super good question to ask to get kids to think about something. What is that question? Why did you phrase it the way you did? Why do you think it will prompt discussion/thinking?

I’m returning to work at my International Baccalaureate school on Monday after seven months of maternity leave, and teaching Middle Years Programme (MYP) Math 9 for the first time. I’d written a few MYP-style units before in spite of teaching only Diploma Programme (DP) classes. I’m trying to be more thoughtful and intentional about unit planning now to create more effective assessments that tie into the MYP global contexts, key concepts, and approaches to learning. I felt that my previous MYP units tried to fit those IB components versus having the assessments arise organically from them. I also didn’t want to plan in the disorganized way that I’d done before–thinking by day or by week rather than backwards from assessments. That leads to more daily work in spite of being less work up front. I also didn’t want to develop a creative project as a summative assessment rather than weaving it into formative assessments. I’ve often done end-of-term projects in the past, but this stressed students and me out because the projects were stand-alone and not designed before the unit started.

I listed out the skills for the first unit I will teach (Coordinate Geometry) and brainstormed project ideas that would assess those skills.
1-a Distance Between Two Points
1-b Midpoints
1-c Gradient
1-d Using Coordinate Geometry
1-e Equations of Straight Lines
1-f Distance from a Point to a Line (though after the fact I realized that systems of equations are an embedded skill; not sure how my students are with this)

I thought about trying a water park project like this, but realized that the types of skills I wanted to assess didn’t fit quite right with the way my students would likely design their water parks, so I’d end up making up some artificial constraints that limited their creativity. I was intrigued by the idea of placing benches at the midpoints of walking paths or by designing slides with constraints on the slope, so I tried to explore urban planning projects. Urban planning seemed so perfect for the MYP global context of globalization and sustainability, in which students “explore the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the relationship between local and global processes; how local experiences mediate the global; the opportunities and tensions provided by world-interconnectedness; the impact of decision-making on humankind and the environment.” However, I couldn’t come up with an urban planning project whose scope would be appropriate for this particular 9th grade unit.

I kept coming back to the idea of having students draw pictures with lines of given slopes. I first experienced this in 7th grade (the 1992-1993 school year, eek) when my Algebra 1 teacher gave us an art project in which we had to create a picture using a given number of linear equations (our choice on the equations). I still remember my friend Gwen’s for its clever name. She made a kaleidoscope pattern named “Kaleidoslope.” Mine was “Starry Night on the Slopes”–my take on Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There are lots of slope picture projects and cool ideas out there (like this from Math Equals Love).

After I impulse-bought this magazine at Whole Foods, I began to explore the idea of artistic expression more.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 8.13.18 PMI started to focus on the global context of personal and cultural expression, in which students “explore the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic” the key concept of form (the “shape and underlying structure of an entity or piece of work, including its organization, essential nature and external appearance. Form in MYP mathematics refers to the understanding that the underlying structure and shape of an entity is distinguished by its properties. Form provides opportunities for students to appreciate the aesthetic nature of the constructs used in a discipline.”), and the approach to learning of communication.

My unit inquiry question will be: How does math influence personal artistic expression? I’ll weave in drawing activities throughout the unit and tie in the current trend of adult coloring books (like this, this, and this). For the final assessment, I’ll have them design their own quilt panel to represent themselves for a hypothetical time capsule that would get buried to commemorate their class (perhaps in a new building) and explore the mathematical properties of the quilt design. Maybe I’ll even get to tie in the history of quilts in the Underground Railroad. I’m psyched about trying these lesson and assessment ideas with my students and to see what they will come up with!

1 Comment on MTBoS Blogging Initiative Week 3: Better Questions

  1. Zach
    February 23, 2017 at 1:19 am (3 months ago)

    I would highly suggest, if your students have seen systems before, use the coordinate geometry time to reincorporate solving simple systems. I have done a project before that I wish I could attach on proving concurrency and finding the coordinates of triangle centers. To differentiate instruction a bit, the students were allowed to choose their own level of challenge:
    – a general, scalene triangle (of course having its base on the axis at the origin acceptable)
    – a triangle with one specialized property (isosceles, right, angle info if they have triangle trig)
    I feel for a geometry course, particularly placed between Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, this allows for system review amazingly in this differentiated way which I (and the students) felt was fair.
    With regard to distance from a point to a line… what about allowing that point to be the origin? Or what about the line going through the origin? Allow them to specialize to build confidence then encourage them to take on the generalized case.


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