Engaging in Thanksgiving Data

In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to do a short post to share some data about Thanksgiving that might be useful for use with your students. I remember doing data-collection activities with my students around the holiday, trying to connect math concepts to real-world things. Here are just a couple of activities I remember doing with my own middle and high school students:

  1. Students brought in their own pumpkins (big, small, etc.) and we measured circumference & diameter (as close as we could get) to determine if the relationship was pi, as we conjectured.
  2. Weighing the pumpkins and measuring height/circumference and trying to determine if you could predict the weight of a pumpkin simply by knowing it’s height & circumference.
  3. Measure the circumference around the middle, then measure the circumference from top to bottom of the pumpkin and see if there is a relationship
  4. Collect classroom data on foods each student eats at Thanksgiving and create a bar graph showing the different foods frequency.
  5. Have students calculate the typical cost of their own families Thanksgiving meal (this requires research on cost of each item, number of servings for their family, etc. – interesting data), and then do a box-and-whisker plot of all the classroom data to compare.
  6. I never did this one, due to the mess, but I had teacher friends who actually weighed the pumpkin, then opened them up and counted the seeds to determine if there was a relationship. Probably best to only do this with a couple pumpkins! Save one for making a conjecture and testing at the end.

There are obviously many ideas and sources of data, but the key for all of this is to get students collecting data, looking for relationships, making conjectures and predictions, and using mathematics.  Calculators are very handy here, especially ones that allow students to record the data in lists and graph the results. You can have some students recording the data on paper, others on the calculator.

In my search for data, I ran across some interesting sites that might be useful to teachers wanting to make some real-world connections on this Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve listed a brief description below and then the link.

  1. This is a great resource showing geographically what people are eating at Thanksgiving.  Interactive, color-coded maps for the major foods served and recipes to go along with these as well!  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/11/26/us/20091126-search-graphic.html?_r=0
  2. This is a complete lesson with data from a Teaching Children Mathematics article in 2006.  It has some of the activities I described above plus different ones and it has ready-to-use data if you didn’t want to have the pumpkin mess!!  http://schools.cbe.ab.ca/b402/pdfs/math_pumpkins.pdf
  3. The Price of Thanksgiving DataSet from TuvaLabs This is a dataset and activity that can be downloaded in Excel and used with students. If you have never checked out TuvaLabs, do so – its free for teachers and has amazing datasets and lesson activities.
  4. This page lists a bunch of facts about Turkeys that you could use to create some interesting mathematical explorations Turkey Facts
  5. Thanksgiving Statistics – interesting statistics from food to towns named Plymouth.
  6. Thanksgiving by the numbers: Just one of many sites with more statistics about food – includes recipes!

If you do your own searches, you will find a lot of ready-to-use lessons and ideas. The thing to remember is it’s a lot more fun for students if they are the ones collecting the data and making the connections. Communication, mathematical discourse, and application are the key.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!