I am not sure if you’ve ever had that “moment”. The moment where you are at a frustration level with why things aren’t working. I used to look for extra worksheets to give more time for tricky math concepts to “stick” with students. I looked online for further practice activities, I asked colleagues for their extra resources for more practice, I looked for games. I felt like I’d tried everything. That’s when I read some research that making math real world, connecting it to student’s lives was REALLY good practice. So a few years ago I started to create real world problem solving projects to help this problem.

That was how the Book Order Proposal project started (for my gifted and talented students I’ve used The Housing Market Analysis). I knew that I needed to continually reinforce the concept of rounding/estimation, comparing numbers, and mental math addition strategies. I gave my students the chance to do just that by offering to buy books for our classroom library. I decided to coincide this project with my parent Scholastic Book Club order. Here is how it worked:

- I made it my problem of the day for 4 consecutive days, giving 20 minutes each day for the project. The first three were days for them to work (with a mini lesson or two if needed), and the fourth day was the peer review day.
- All students were given a budget of $50 (bonus points offset this cost-I was able to get all of our books free this last round) to look through three Scholastic flyers.
- The students had to put together a proposal, thinking about their classmate’s reading interests, as well as thinking of what we currently have in our classroom library.

What happened was kind of interesting. The majority of the students got within $2 of the $50 budget. A few of the students tried to hand in proposals that were $1, $30 or $25. When we talked as a class on the second day, I asked my students if it was okay if someone didn’t get close to $50. The resounding answer was “NO!”. When asked why, they explained that it would be a waste of money if they didn’t spend it all, especially since they would become THEIR books for their classroom. I handed back those few papers and asked them to start again. (Now that is what we call peer accountability!)

At the end of the project we laid the papers out and did a gallery walk. Students voted on their top 3 favorite proposals. The proposal with the most votes actually got ordered! It was such a fantastic way to end the project.

My favorite part though, the very best part of the entire project, was the gallery walk and natural reflection. Students could see how others choose to put the proposals together. Some were neat and organized, others were missing information, some of them had a hard time with their handwriting, and other student’s numbers didn’t quite add up. It led to great discussion, and the students wrote goals on their proposals for the next time we have to present information to our peers.

It has been clear to me that making math real world, and connecting it to their own lives is a powerful thing!