Motivating with a Math Story

I’ve observed over my career that as a high school teacher, 9th graders are amongst the most challenging yet most rewarding groups of students.  Challenging in the sense that they never stop talking or moving, but rewarding nonetheless because of their naivety and innocence. This combination makes engagement and relevance easier to create day to day.  

For example, today in my 9th grade probability and statistics class, I adapted an IMP activity involving sample size and the ratio of mixed nuts.  I literally had these 9th graders believing that I counted all of the nuts in a container of mixed nuts and compared it to a fictitious “nut ratio” from Planters’ website. It’s worth noting that my intention was to tell a story about mixed nuts, but they seemed to believe that this must be true, so I just played along. They think I’m a little crazy for counting the number of nuts in a can, but they were bound to reach that conclusion at some point, nuts or no nuts.  This little “fib” served me very well today as the students now wanted to figure out if I was short-changed on the number of cashews in my can of mixed nuts and whether I had enough evidence here to sue Planter’s Peanuts.  I don’t plan on making up stories of this nature all trimester, but the fact that changing the character in the problem from Mr. Swenson to Mrs. Schmidt played out in my favor was satisfying.

I felt a little guilty having mislead them, however, so I scoured the internet for anything relating to Planters nut ratio.  I found this interesting post about a similar (albeit smaller) bag of mixed nuts. The entire blog was actually pretty intriguing as its entire purpose is to critique gas station food fare.  I’ll probably show this to my students tomorrow just to see where their brains go with it.  

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