April is Math Awareness Month and this year's theme is "Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge." In today's data-driven world, teachers know that it's more important than ever to prepare students to manage and interpret information. One way to do this is to give them a solid grounding in data analysis and probability concepts.
This month's article brings you some fun ideas for introducing these concepts in the early grades (think dinosaurs). While you're here, check out the sample activity pages from two new Didax titles, the Internet link to teacher ideas for appealing probability activities, and our generous special on Didax's best data analysis and probability resources. We hope it's a winning combination for you!
Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, but they still roam the hallways of elementary schools, where these ancient reptiles are enlisted as a motivational factor in a wide variety of learning experiences. Take probability and data analysis, for example.
Interpreting and organizing information is part of the Common Core Standards beginning in kindergarten, when children are asked to "describe and compare measurable attributes" and "classify objects and count the number of objects in each category." In grades 1 through 3, students are asked to "represent and interpret data," beginning with informal methods of organizing information and progressing to bar, picture, and other types of graphs. These early experiences with analyzing data encourage the development of a problem-solving approach to mathematics. Through such activities, children can construct their own mathematical knowledge, build on prior knowledge, and draw conclusions.
Fortunately, data analysis and probability concepts can be taught in all kinds of ways that are highly engaging for kids--for example, by bringing in the dinosaurs ...
Activity 1: Dinosaurs on the March(Classifying by attribute)
Give students a sheet of paper showing drawings of various dinosaurs. Make sure there is a large variety of dinosaurs with varied observable traits. Allow students time to brainstorm ideas on how to classify the dinosaurs--for example, walks on two feet, has spikes, can fly. Give the students scissors, posterboard, glue, etc., so they can cut out, organize, and display the data. Young students will classify these attributes informally while older students might use a Venn diagram.
Ask the students to label each group. Once completed, ask individual students to justify their answers by stating the likenesses or differences among each group, or allow the rest of the class to guess how each group has been classified. Have the students write two or three sentences to explain the results of this exercise.
Activity 2: Dinosaurs Galore(Graphing)
Review with the class the properties of various types of graphs (bar graph, pictograph, etc.). Provide students with worksheets showing different numbers of five types of dinosaurs and discuss the various ways this information could be displayed. Once the information is displayed as a graph, pose questions to the students: Are there more or fewer flying reptiles than Triceratops? Which dinosaur is there the most of? Record the students' ideas and display them with the graph.
Activity 3: Dinosaur Dice(Probability)
Make "dinosaur dice" with pictures of different dinosaurs pasted to the 6 sides of a number cube. Ask students which dinosaur they think will appear when the number cube is tossed. Discuss what the term probability means. Name a type of dinosaur and ask the students to stand up if they think that dinosaur will be tossed. Discuss the probability of this happening (1 in 6). Students who choose correctly stay in the game. The winner is the last student (or students) standing.
Activity 4: Dinosaur Dig(Graphing, probability)
Bury laminated pictures of dinosaurs in clean, dry play sand. For example, bury 12 Tyrannosaurus, 4 Diplodocus, 2 Pteranodon, and 1 Triceratops. One by one, ask students to find and take one dinosaur card from the sandbox. Discuss how they could record the results of this archealogical "dig." Record the results in tally and graph form and return the cards to the sandbox. Ask students to think about why there were more Tyrannosaurus cards chosen than the other dinosaurs. Dig out all the cards and show them to the students. Ask: "Is this game fair?" Discuss how you could make the results fair. Introduce the phrases most likely, least likely, and equally likely. Then play the game again and compare results.
Activity 5: Find the Dinosaur(Probability)
Attach a picture of a volcano to the front of three paper cups. Number each volcano from 1 to 3. Hide a small toy dinosaur under one cup. Move the cups around and ask the students to guess which cup the dinosaur is hiding under. Discuss that there is a 1-in-3 chance of finding the dinosaur. Have students keep a simple record of how many times the dinosaur was and was not found. Discuss whether you would get the same results if you played the game again. Why or why not?
Activity 6: Dinosaur Fact or Fiction(Probability)
Introduce the terms possible and impossible. Divide the students into pairs. Provide each pair with long strips of paper. Ask each pair to discuss possible dinosaur scenarios--for example, "Dinosaurs ate plants as food." Students write the sentences on strips of paper and illustrate them. Then ask students to create impossible dinosaur scenarios--for example, "Dinosaurs took showers to keep clean." Students again write and illustrate each sentence on a strip of paper. Collect and place all the sentence strips in a basket. One by one, have students pick and read each sentence and discuss the probability of that event occurring. Glue each sentence under the titles "Possible Dinosaur Activities" or "Impossible Dinosaur Activities."
Activity 7: Fossil Find(Graphing)
Peter the paleontologist jumped into his time machine and traveled back to the time of the dinosaurs. Make a large two-way grid showing five different types of dinosaurs on the left-hand side and the days of the week across the top of the grid. Select which dinosaur Peter discovered on the different days of the week by recording a check mark or placing a sticker on the grid. Model for the students how the grid can be read by going across or down. Have students interpret the information on the grid by posing questions to their classmates--for example, "Which dinosaur was found on Monday?" Then have students model how they located their answers on the two-way grid.
Adapted from the article "Chance-o-Saurus" by Tracie Doherty and Sue Traber in Class Ideas (Term 4, 2009, Issue 51).
The following sample activity pages come from two of our newest books for middle school students. On the probability side, Carl Seltzer weighs in with a counter-toss activity from his latest book Working with Two-Color Counters. On the data analysis side, Don Balka and Ted Hull walk us through an engrossing lesson involving banquet attendance from Visible Thinking Activities (out this month).
While it's getting more difficult to find free teaching resources on the Web, teachers still love to post their best practices and most exciting lesson ideas free of charge. Click below for some outstanding teacher tips for making your probability lessons really rock and roll.
Providing students with high-interest problems and learning how to teach these problems for greater understanding are keys to motivation in the math classroom. This is the premise behind the soon-to-be published Visible Thinking Activities: 23 Activities for Problem Solving. Be sure to visit us next month for an exclusive interview with co-authors Don Balka and Ted Hull and a not-to-be-missed special on some of Didax's most popular problem-solving resources (including Visible Thinking Activities!). In the meantime, happy Spring!