The Float Challenge

The amount of vocabulary that is embedded in the measurement and geometry Common Core State Standards is staggering. Along with most things in math, I feel that more than ever students need to see it, use it, or touch it in the real world to connect to these words.

This occurred to me halfway through our measurement unit, as I was teaching metric units to measure mass. The day before, we had covered customary units for mass. Adding more vocabulary the next day felt like I was pushing too much information into their brain.

So I tried a little something. A Float Challenge.

I gave the students a 1′x 1′ piece of aluminum foil, and asked them to create a flotation device. This device had to float/carry the amount of mass weights (in grams) as high as they were willing to bet. The person who could successfully float the greatest mass (had to stay afloat for 5 seconds) would be the winner, but if they bet TOO high and their boat sank, they were disqualified. The mass weights that I had came in increments of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 grams. They could decide how they wanted to distribute their weight.

The bets came in slow and steady. Some students wanted to see how others would bet. Others worked on their flotation device right away. A few students went for it all, hoping their flotation device would carry 80-100 grams. Every student came to the table at some point in the design process to feel what the weights felt like in their hands. After about 15 minutes of engineering we began the floating. It seemed like every student was hanging on the edge of their seat as the flotation devices came forward. Near the end they were trying to stand on chairs to see the final two. The results as we proceeded were recorded on our easel chart.

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The reflection that followed was powerful and meaningful. Many wished they had bet more weight, others expressed an interest in changing their float design. Some explained that they would have liked the opportunity to test their float ahead of time. Other students felt that they had over-thought their design, and wanted to do it all again.

By the end of the lesson, every student in the room could tell me what 1 gram felt like. A week and a half later, they could STILL tell me what 1 gram feels like, AND they are connecting it to other things in the world around them. Seeing the success of something that was so simple, and that truly took only 25-30 minutes makes me see that I need to do this more. I need to connect it more to their lives, allow them to see it, touch it, (maybe even taste it!) to make it meaningful.

You can check out my Float Challenge in the Resources for Educators section, or just click here! In it is the lesson in GANAG format (Jane Pollock’s amazing lesson planning format) and includes goal setting, the guidelines for the contest, and formative assessment at the end. Happy Floating!

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