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Project Ideas for Mathematics

Grocery Shopping—In preparation, students should talk to their families about what they are planning for food for the week. How do they decide what to buy? Provide students with a budget and grocery ads. You might give them a list of items they would already have on hand, such as salt or mayonnaise. Have them work in teams to plan menus and what to shop for the week. Have recipe books available in the room. What will they buy? Are they within the budget? Can they make their meals with what they bought? How do the meals stack up nutritionally? (Those with online access can access sources such as PeaPod for a more complete listing of items.) Suitable for grades 3 and up. The younger children might think about only lunches or dinners.

Grocery Receipt Detectives—Go to a nearby grocery store and look for a discarded, long receipt. Organize the items on the receipt into categories and develop a graph. Study the categories and write a short story about the family that purchased those grocery items.

Stock Market Game—Take an imaginary $100,000 and invest in various stocks. Watch and graph the value of your portfolio over time.

Fantasy Sports—Choose a celebrity sports figure. Gather data about this person from the Internet. Defend why they are among the best in their sport.

Design a Playground—Draw a proportionally scaled playground. Include as many different geometric shapes as possible. Do the math for space and cost.

A Map of the School—Draw a proportionally accurate map of the school in its surrounding area. Figure walking distances to various points within the neighborhood.

Measurement Olympics—Plan and execute active events that involve measurement such as: cotton ball throw, standing broad jump, vertical height leap or how many lima beans can you hold in one hand. Have students create other events. Keep track of scores for participants in the events and figure the differences between winners and others.

How Much Can the Room Hold?—How many Kleenex boxes would fill your classroom? The multipurpose room? Your school? Your bedroom? Use estimation, reasoning, measurement and problem solving to determine the answer.

Where Is Math?—In their school or neighborhood, students could take photographs with digital cameras (or draw pictures) to show different places where math could be found. Students could create a display board/poster and write a brief description, caption or question to elicit discussion on the math they found in the picture.

Million Dollar Project—”Give” students a million dollars to spend on a single project. For example, if they bought a house, they could use the newspaper to find a house and create a budget for housing and utilities. If they bought a business, they would need to supply all of the materials for the business.

Million Dollar Project 2—Create an ideal playground. Find space on the school grounds and use spatial area concepts to create a playground. Students present their ideas/blueprints to the group.

String Art—Students use poster board or tag board to design geometric shapes/patterns using colored string. Patterns can be found in art curriculum or fabrics from varied cultures. Discuss the patterns. The finished designs can be displayed on a school wall or donated to a local children’s hospital or other public building.

Create a Game—Students will create a math game—the pieces, questions, packaging, rules, game board, advertisements for the game, etc. When presenting the game, students explain the game and “sell” it. Ask them to identify what math is involved in the game. Invite students to play the game. Donate the games to the school.

Math Author—Students write a math book that features a math concept and then illustrate the book. They research other types of math books, from the school or local libraries to create their own math “literature” book. Once completed, students present their books to each other and donate them to the school library or local hospital.

Share a Treat—Using a school kitchen (or whatever is available), have students bake and decorate a cake or make cookies. Students could then deliver the cake to a nursing home or senior citizen home in the area. This project involves measurement and following directions. In the absence of a kitchen, identify other treats that could be prepared without an oven or stovetop that could be prepared and shared.

Flat Stanley—Have students send Stanley to different parts of the community and beyond. Students will track Stanley’s travels on a map and calculate the miles traveled. The presentation would be a schoolwide bulletin board that is maintained by the students. If “Flat Stanley” is already being done by a class at school, do a similar project using a stuffed animal, which the after-school group can name.

Walk-It—If the school has a walking track or enough space in the building (such as in the gym) students can choose a destination and “walk there.” For example, they can walk from their school to Washington, D.C. They plot their journey, discuss mileage and geographical locations, plan the number of minutes to walk each day, estimate the total days for the trip, revise their estimation, etc. Once everyone has arrived in Washington, D.C., have a celebratory event, such as a luncheon at the White House. At the event, they present their chartings of the trip and compare their walking journey to other modes of transportation. They can also talk about what they “passed” along the way.

What if Math Disappeared?—Ask students to think about what their day would be like if they didn’t have math. Students can talk about how the world would change if math did not exist. They can investigate careers and try to prove that math is not needed in the careers. Invite guests in to talk about their careers and how math is, in reality, used each day. Students will keep a journal of how they do use math each day.

Shopping—For clothing, furnishing a house or apartment, gifts, school supplies, carpeting, paint or physical education equipment. How much do things really cost? What can you get for a budget? How much can you save through use of coupons or discounts? Can you save enough to make a difference by shopping at one store instead of another?

Plan a Celebration—(party, wedding, prom, picnic) Estimate how many will be there, food to be served with cost, decorations with cost. Organize, menu, schedule for attending to tasks, create budget, be ready to present for approval to the faculty (if school function) or other audience that will be picking up the tab.

Nutritious but Delicious School Meals—Plan lunch menus for the school to serve that would satisfy students’ tastes and follow rules of good nutrition. These menus can then be presented to the district’s food service staff.

Math in Schools—With a partner or small group-compile as many instances of math in the school as you can. The possibilities are as broad as students’ imaginations. (Examples: different shapes, statistics of student population and staff, areas/perimeters of spaces, cost of eating lunch each week, grading scales, average heights of students in different grades, steps and other distance measures from door to classroom, volume of rooms, etc.) Organize and create displays of information suitable for an exhibit.

Puzzles Project—After completing a number of different math-related puzzles, have students create their own and compile them into a booklet for all class members. Examples: word find, magic square, word arithmetic, word scramble with math vocabulary, rebus, riddles, secret message. (This idea from Hands-On Math Projects with Real-Life Applications by Judith Muschla and Gary Robert Muschla. Josey-Bass.)