Students in Georgia Boethin’s fifth-grade class at Humbolt Elementary School were absorbed with solving a real-life math problem last week — planning Thanksgiving dinner.
The challenge was to use a grocery store ad to find savings on the turkey and trimmings and plan out dinner for 10 people, while staying within a budget.
“This was planned to learn how to estimate decimals, as well as how to find an exact answer,” Boethin said. “This was a super-engaging, high-interest task and one that answers the question, ‘When am I ever gonna use this?’”
While students busied themselves with the problem, some thoughtful questions cropped up.
One student raised a hand to ask how many pounds of turkey would feed 10 people.
“I said, ‘Turkeys have bones in them, so a 1/2 pound per person, and a 1/2 pound times 10,” Boethin said. “I knew it was going to come up, and I let them struggle with it.”
One group wanted homemade stuffing on their menu, and broke down the price for ingredients down to the croutons.
They also compared prices by finding out the per-ounce cost of each item.
“The kids were so engaged, they begged me to do math instead of reading,” Boethin said. “That never happens.”
She came up with the idea after attending a training in Salem on how to write performance tasks and taking an online class for personal development through Stanford University called Math Mindsets.
She said the interest was about as high as she’s ever seen in a math class.
“They have to understand why they’re doing it, and it needed to be authentic,” she said.
Boethin said she has the simple question “Why?” on the whiteboard in her classroom, and she told her class at the beginning of the school year she would ask them why and she wants them to ask why “a million times” this year.
She told them, “I’m not going to teach you what to think, but how to think.”