Martha Jean Barrett
Groveport Middle School, Groveport, Ohio
"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
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
The advanced students' portion of the project took approximately
seven weeks and included the following activities:
- Students were given a pre-survey on their attitudes toward
past math programs, their consumer math knowledge, and their overall
math ability. They discussed the Photo Math project in general
and were given photographic tips by the school principal, who
is also an amateur photographer.
- The students divided into seven groups and each group took
on one of the seven math categories to be demonstrated (whole
numbers, decimals, fractions, measurement, geometry, graphs, and
percents). Each team settled on a basic theme and playing pattern
for its game and began construction of the game board, playing
pieces, and box. The completed games would include a decorated
container, game board, playing pieces, rules, photos, math problems,
and an answer key.
- Teams continued game construction and decided who would go
to which location to take the pictures needed. Each student's
goal was to produce 12 usable photos, and, over the next two weeks,
they fanned out to focus on restaurant menus, grocery items, store
signs, billboards, buildings, animals, roadside scenery, and other
subjects. The photography was done on their own time.
- After the film had been professionally developed and prints
returned, the students wrote assessments of what they had done
right and wrong in taking the photos.
- At this point, the students began writing and solving math
problems about their photos. When this was done, the teacher made
a final check to see that the games were complete. Each team presented
- After helping the developmental students learn how to play
the games, the advanced students also made formal presentations
about their games to the local school board and to the parent-teacher
The developmental students' portion of the project occurred over
12 class periods. Their activities included the following:
- These students were also given a pre-survey on their attitudes
about math and their general knowledge of consumer math and in
addition were pre-tested on percents.
- The teacher then taught a unit on changing a percent to a
decimal and back to a percent; changing a percent to a fraction;
solving problems when the percent was known; and solving problems
when the percent was not known.
- Five days into this unit, students began spending the first
part of class reviewing percents and playing the advanced students'
games for the remainder of the period. Several advanced students
visited the class to explain the games.
- Students were given a post-test on percents and a post-survey
on their opinions about the games.
- Students found examples of percents in newspapers, discussed
them, cut them out, and wrote their own math problems about them.
They also looked for photos in newspapers and made up problems
and found answers, just as the advanced students had done.
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.