Road Trip Across the USA

Last week, my students worked on mastering the distance and midpoint formulas using a really amazing lesson, linked here:

My goal in this lesson was for students to practice using the distance and midpoint formulas while staying engaged, working in collaborative groups, and applying math to real-life scenarios. Students worked in groups of four to plan a trip across the United States. They were given a map with a coordinate plane and were required to travel through ten states over a 5 day period. Students were to find the distance traveled each day using the formula. Then, they had to stop each day exactly halfway between their start and endpoints for gas. They were to find this pit stop point using the midpoint formula.

Students in both of my classes were incredibly engaged throughout the lesson. They were discussing mathematics and were actually excited to do the project. Students were on task, focused, explaining mathematics to each other, working together to solve problems, and getting a lot of practice with the concepts. My favorite lessons involve controlled chaos and this one had a lot of it. As it became one of my favorite lessons to date, I wanted to know what my kids thought. Were they as excited about this lesson as I was? Here’s a sample of their feedback:

“I really enjoyed this project because it wasn’t just boring problems.”

“I prefer packets over projects like this because I can work independently and I can solve things problem by problem without having to pull many things together.”

“I enjoy the bookwork because everyone gets the same answer, but I really like a break once in awhile with a fun project that applies the math with the real world”

“I enjoy doing bookwork because it is very orderly. But I enjoy projects because they allow me to do math differently and be away from the norm. I like both equally.”

“I like this activity because it puts math into real life and it is easier for me and less boring.”

“Well I like the project itself because it’s a more interesting way to practice the concepts. I really don’t like how we had to work in groups.”

“I liked this better than packet work because there were far less problems, but I feel I learned the same info.”

“I enjoyed doing the map because it was a lot more hands on and the book is not. I feel like I learned more and in the book I would not understand things as well.”

“I love working on projects like this. I understand what we are doing better and I love to work in groups.”

“I prefer doing activities like these because they help me use real things which help me understand the info better.”

“I find doing an activity like this was fun. But I also learn well by writing notes and trying examples in class. So, I think I would like doing both (like doing these activities every now and then).”

My favorite response is the one that said that they had far less problems to do, but learned the same info. Isn’t that the point? Students in math are so used to getting drowned by repetitious practice problems. Instead, we should be giving students problems like these. Ones that give students an opportunity to learn the material, practice the material, and master the material without feeling like they just did 100 problems. My CT even mentioned to me that I should ensure that students had actually learned the formulas, as opposed to just skating through the activity. The next day, part of my warm-up asked them to write down the formulas without looking in their notes. Almost universally, every single student had the correct formulas written down and knew how to use them.

I couldn’t imagine how much my students’ responses would impact my teaching. So many teachers just do their jobs without realizing that we really work for our students. We are there simply to ensure that they succeed. How are we supposed to do that without asking them what they need and what they prefer? I could spend every single day of an entire school year doing activities like this USA activity and be perfectly happy. Some of my students probably could too. But not all of them. We need to be listening to students and seeking out their input. In this case, I was thankful that my students loved this lesson as much as I did.