While my primary teaching experience was in social studies, I still remember that first year of teaching (well before the No Child Left Behind Act). I got my first teaching schedule, looked it over and saw this course – Alg 1 – that I did not remember in any history class. When I talked to the principal about it, he smiled and said, “Well, I have one more math class that someone needs to teach and you have a masters degree. I’m sure you can handle it just fine.” Being honest, I was not thrilled but did my best. While I did not enjoy math, the experience made me a better teacher.
During that first year, November became a challenge for me. The students (and the teachers) were looking forward to a long break, which made my attempts at math more strained. A good friend of mine reminded me that this month was an excellent time to adopt engaging and seasonally relevant ways to teach math. As I recently cleaned out some of my old bins, I found a few of their ideas on “scratch paper.” Maybe these ideas from many years ago can spark ideas for your lessons during this month:
- Thanksgiving-Themed Word Problems: Craft math word problems with a Thanksgiving twist. For example, you can create problems related to cooking and meal preparation, such as calculating ingredient quantities, cooking times, and portion sizes. This not only reinforces math skills but also ties into the season. If you do this, have a little fun with it to be just like real-life. What do I mean? As they are nearing their calculations, throw them a curve – your sister has decided to come and bring their fiancee and child, so what does that do to meal planning? You can have lots of fun with that one!
- Measurement and Baking: Baking is an enjoyable and practical way to teach measurement. Have your students follow a Thanksgiving or fall-themed recipe, where they need to measure ingredients precisely. Discuss fractions, conversions, and the importance of accurate measurements in the baking process. I even partnered with our kitchen crew to give them some relevant experience in helping mix ingredients. I still remember the incorporate of yeast into bread and the disaster that came of that exercise. At the end of the year, the students remember that and the content associated with it.
- Budgeting for a Thanksgiving Meal: Have students plan a hypothetical Thanksgiving meal while working with a budget. Provide them with a fixed amount of money and a list of items they need to purchase for the meal. They must calculate costs, prioritize expenses, and make decisions within their budget constraints. I also saved the “sales flyers” from the newspaper and brought them in for discussions around best deals. For instance, stores would share an advertisement like this – “if you spend ‘x’ dollars over the next two weeks, you get a FREE turkey.” I presented several monthly budgets for food, and we examined whether that deal made financial sense or not based upon that budget. The fun part was their initial predictions compared to the final results.
- Temperature and Weather: Incorporate math into discussions about the weather and temperature changes in November. Students can keep a daily temperature log, calculate average temperatures, and explore patterns in temperature variations throughout the month. Depending on where you live, the temperature shifts can be wild; so, you can leverage percent of increase/decrease from the first day to the last day. This is also a good data set for mode, median, and mean.
- Time Zones and Daylight Saving Time (DST): This one always got groans and moans and complaints! In early November, when daylight saving time ends, discuss time zones and how time changes can affect daily routines. Calculate time differences between locations and explore how this impacts scheduling and time management. You can even have students survey the feelings about the time changes (love or hate) and calculate the percentages for each. Where this can get fun is in the cross-discipline approach. Have science teachers discuss the effects of the time change on people to dig into biology and leverage social studies teachers on the politics behind it (maybe even writing letters to elected officials asking them to leave the time alone).
By integrating math into the themes and activities associated with November, you can make the subject more engaging and relatable for your students. These ideas provide practical, real-life applications of math concepts, making the learning experience both enjoyable and educational.