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Photo-Math

Martha Jean Barrett
Groveport Middle School, Groveport, Ohio

Subject: Mathematics
Grade: 7

"This is by far the best project I have done in the classroom. I plan to make it a part of my yearly curriculum."

Purpose and Description of Project

Martha Jean Barrett is firmly convinced that even students who are bored or frustrated (or both) with mathematics can be motivated creation and construction of math games involving photographs they took at various community sites and then used these games to teach math skills to two classes of students with learning problems.

Working in teams, the advanced students covered seven math categories-whole numbers, decimals, fractions, measurement, geometry, graphs, and percents. Each team selected a theme and pattern for its game, began construction, and, after instruction in photography, went out into the community to find photographic subjects that would lend themselves to consumer math problems. They then wrote and solved math problems related to the photos. When the games were completed, the advanced students demonstrated how the games were played for the developmental students, who had already studied the concepts in class. The developmental students became so enthusiastic as a result of the games that they went on to write and solve their own math problems on the basis of newspaper photos and items.

Barrett found that while the Photo Math games were "designed to be used by slow learners, they were also found exciting by all of my other students." In fact, since most of the games require problems of varying difficulty to be solved before players can advance on the game board, she estimates that they would be useful from about fourth grade up. Students get caught up in the games, and the use of photographs makes the situations dealt with-such as figuring the tip on a meal check-more realistic than those usually described in textbook word problems. The students also found, notes the teacher, that math could be fun rather than tedious or frightening.

Activities

The advanced students' portion of the project took approximately seven weeks and included the following activities:

The developmental students' portion of the project occurred over 12 class periods. Their activities included the following:

Materials, Resources, and Expenses

Human resources for this project included the school principal; two professional photographers; the director of curriculum services for the county department of education; other school personnel: and parents, who helped transport students to photo sites and donated art supplies.

Each advanced student used a camera from home. Materials required for game construction included file cards, envelopes, glue, staples, construction paper, markers, poster board, game pieces, dice, spinners, portfolios and boxes, and a laminating machine.

Outcomes and Adaptability

Barrett found from pre- and post-surveys that the advanced students had enjoyed the project, improved basic math and consumer skills, learned how to operate a camera, and would recommend the project to other classes. She also observed that they were more aware of the importance and use of math in everyday life and talked enthusiastically about the examples of math concepts that they found outside class.

Further, Barrett says, they developed "tremendous organizational skills" and ability to work cooperatively during the process of developing games, taking photos, writing problems, and putting all the required elements together. Communication skills also came into play as a result of the oral presentations students made about their games and the thank-you letters they wrote to resource people. And, finally, they were proud of the help they were able to give the developmental students and had more understanding of these students' difficulties.

Evaluation of the developmental students initially showed that they could not work with percentages at all and that they were bored and frustrated with math in general. The game project "sparked their interest from the very first day," says Barrett, and they worked hard to learn the skills necessary to play the games. By the end of the project, these students showed a nearly 70 percent improvement in percent skills. Attendance also increased significantly on game days, states Barrett, and some students even asked if they could make their own games for extra credit. The students became more aware that such basic math skills are necessary for everyday life and developed a more positive attitude.

Barrett points out that Photo-Math games can be created and used by most ability groups, since her advanced students enjoyed playing the games and the developmental students became interested in making them-even though the project was designed the other way around. In addition, other subject areas could use the photo games with equal success. She suggests that social studies teachers could have students take or copy photos of famous people, buildings, or events and develop accompanying questions, while science students could photograph chemical reactions, plants, or insects.

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