Math Concepts Come Alive in 'Candytown Village'

Math Concepts Come Alive in 'Candytown Village'
Posted on 01/27/2020
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candytown village collage“I like to do things differently,” said Union Gifted Intervention Specialist Amy Alexander. “I like to have my students start with the dessert and have their veggies at the end.”

Instead of projects being the ‘dessert’ where students demonstrate mastery at the end of a unit, she often starts math lessons with a project. Alexander finds that students can learn a lot just by playing around with new concepts. Then, after ‘dessert’, students do exercises and worksheets (aka veggies) using the knowledge they gained from the project.

Alexander’s most recent example involved her fourth grade Math Plus class during a unit on perimeter, area, and surface area. An introductory worksheet kept mentioning that “the dimensions are not to scale”, and students asked what it means to be in scale or not in scale.

Alexander started to explain why many things can’t be shown to scale within the four walls of their classroom. Conversations continued and an idea evolved in which students could build a scaled town: Candytown Village.

Each small group of students had three packs of graham crackers – and total freedom -- to come up with the structure they wanted to build.

The groups started by playing around with the area and perimeter of graham crackers first, then designed a structure. They made scaled blueprints of the sides, roof and base of their structures which included a candy store, a football stadium, an elementary school and even a Target store.

Fourth grader Sophia Baker learned a lot through the experimentation process. “You should sketch out your idea first. You don’t want to be too advanced at first. It is best to start simple and add from there.”

Classmate Annabelle Bauer agreed and added, “You should always have multiple ideas so that if the first one doesn’t work, you have a backup plan.”

Alexander documented the whole process using Seesaw, so parents and students could follow along and provide comments along the way. Students could then make changes based on the feedback.

Parents sent in lots of materials to fuel the students’ creativity. Fourth grader Jack Snider really liked that “it was a totally open-ended project and we could do whatever we wanted. I liked adding details; my favorite part was making wheels on our camper from snowflake pretzels and peppermints.” Students even sharpened their culinary skills as they took turns making the batches of royal icing that held the structures together.

Once the students completed their structure, they experimented further with the concepts of perimeter and area. Not only did they figure out the surface area on their blueprint, but they became experts by calculating the surface area of their entire structure -- as well as the surface area for all of the buildings in Candytown Village.

“Surface area is one of my least favorite math topics,” said James Harris, who helped create The White House for the village. “But this project made it much easier.”

When the village was complete, the students had no trouble when Alexander moved on to worksheets on perimeter and surface area. “They all totally had it and understood it because they had done it,” she said.

In addition to the fourth grade Math Plus class, Alexander teaches third and fifth grade Math Plus, as well as sixth grade Enrichment. “The sixth-graders who came into the room were so into watching the projects progress, and the third-graders were excited about what they would learn the next year.”

This gave her a new idea: why not teach feedback skills? So students in all of her classes learned how to provide meaningful feedback, making it specific and positive while taking into account effort and hard work.

The final step in the Candytown Village project is for each group to read through the feedback on their structure and come up with three takeaways.

“It’s amazing to see the students’ ingenuity, their enthusiasm, their energy, when given complete freedom to create and work on a project,” said Alexander.