Sunday, May 11, 2014

Math Fair Mania: Connecting Math to the Real World

by Lisa Pagano 

For the past five years,  I have enjoyed collaborating with classroom teachers, students, and parents to make math come alive with an annual Math Fair for 4th and 5th grade students. The Math Fair is an enjoyable and energizing learning experience for all!

What is a Math Fair? 
A Math Fair is similar to a Science Fair. Students select a mathematical topic, conduct research, and ultimately, create a display, written report, and three-dimensional model, and prepare a brief oral presentation to share what they have learned. The purpose of the Math Fair is for students to connect math to the real world and to extend their mathematical knowledge.

Developing a Math Fair project provides each student with an individualized opportunity to research and develop a mathematical topic they are interested in. It integrates math, reading, writing, and also emphasizes listening and speaking skills. Multiple Common Core Standards are addressed and essential 21st Century skills are embedded in the project, especially critical thinking, creativity, and communication.

The Process
I usually launch the Math Fair by showing photographs and images and explaining the purpose of the project.  I've also used video clips from prior Math Fairs so they can get a sense of what judging will look and sound like. Selecting a topic can be challenging and the classroom teacher and I confer with students to help them choose their idea.

We emphasize the importance of using multiple sources to locate information and encourage students to use primary sources, such as interviewing someone in the field.  Class time is devoted to teaching students how to research and paraphrase information learned. Students are also guided and supported throughout the process of writing their project report. They are encouraged to sketch and plan what they would like their trifold board to look like. The trifold board and three-dimensional model is worked on exclusively at home.

Examples of documents and forms used can be found here.

Math Fair Day
Students buzz with excitement throughout the day of the Math Fair! In the morning, judges come prepared to interact with our students and their projects. Other teachers, math specialists, and gifted resource teachers from our district are invited to judge projects. Each student has the opportunity to present their project to a judge and share what they have learned about their topic.  Students set up their displays and are prepared to present their projects.
Students, teachers, parents, and families are invited to visit classrooms and check out the projects in the afternoon.  By this time, Math Fair participants are much more relaxed and eager to share their project with our different visitors. Younger students particularly enjoy seeing the different projects displayed and learning more about mathematical topics. This also helps build excitement about the project. I love when younger students leave the Math Fair exclaiming, "I can't wait until I'm in 4th grade!" or "That was soooo cool!"  
Are you interested in learning more about organizing a Math Fair at your school? Check out this link for a presentation I shared for additional tips & suggestions.  You can also find many more examples of real student projects here.

Lisa Pagano is currently an Academic Facilitator in Charlotte, NC and works to support 3rd-5th grade teachers and students at a magnet school for gifted and high-ability students. She also has experience as an elementary classroom teacher and an AIG resource teacher. Lisa is part of the NCAEE Board and serves as Secretary for the organization. She loves collaborating and connecting with educators and is passionate about gifted education and technology integration. To learn more about Lisa, check out her website or connect with her on Twitter.

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