Visuals to Start Interesting Conversations & Problem-Solving

I realize most teachers and students in the U.S. are just beginning their summer vacations, so thinking about math and problem-solving is most likely the last thing on their minds. But – if any of you are like me, the summer was always a time to regroup, rejuvenate, and come up with new and brilliant ideas to utilize in math class starting in the fall.  I often spent my summers taking a class or finding projects to use/create, so always looking for ways to enliven my math instruction.

This morning, with all the news about UK voting to leave the EU, shocking news to be sure, I couldn’t help notice the many different visuals being bandied about to visually show how the votes were laid out.  It’s fascinating to look at these different representations, and then to just consider all the possible questions that arise.  Here are some examples of the visuals I have seen:

The interesting thing with these visuals is they are all showing the same “results”, but from different perspectives or different ‘groupings’.  I love the map one – it clearly shows how the countries played out in the vote.  Now – this is NOT a post about the referendum – you will have to go to your news sources for information there.  But – from the math teacher side, all these visuals about the same results just got me thinking about how really great questions and problem solving could arise from the simple act of putting up a graph of some results and asking students “what do you think or wonder?” and letting them then investigate. For example, if we look at just the map, and don’t give them any numbers, they might wonder is it half blue/half yellow? How could they then determine the actual area of each colored portion of the graph?

Here’s a couple more pulled from the Prizm Resource Page:

If you were to just throw these up on the screen at the beginning of class and ask the students to come up with some things they wanted to know about these visuals, it would lead to some student-generated questions that then would require the use of mathematics and possibly some background/related research, to find the answers.  If we are thinking about the mathematical practices, or habits of mind we are trying to instill in our students – such as analyzing, communicating, persevering, applying, arguing, critically-thinking, problem-solving, rather than giving them all the information and then asking them to ‘calculate’ the solution, why not let them find answers to questions that interest them? They would be applying mathematics in several ways, perhaps incorporating skills they have not yet learned but need – and in the process realizing that mathematics is useful and interesting.

Try it – find an interesting visual – graph, picture, etc. that spark in you some interesting questions that need math to solve. Put them in your “things to add to my class for the fall” and then get back to summer!