The question came from research that one of the Grade 6 teachers, Erin Couillard, found which stated that the northern boreal forest now produces more oxygen than any other forest in the world.
During the planning stage for this problem, our 2 grade 6 math/science teachers, Erin and Emily Brown, decided to structure it in a different way than they had previously.
Building on the ideas of Dan Meyer, the problem was introduced to the students will less formal structure than the teachers normally would have planned. This allowed the students to be more involved in the “formulation” of the problem than just the “computation” of the numbers. (Great video by Dan Meyer on the topic) The openness of the problem allowed multiple entry points into the problem – since the math was only introduced after some brainstorming and problem solving by the students.
Due to this change in structure, far more students found a place to start with the problem. According to Erin Couillard, this is the first time she has presented a math problem to her students where all students knew how to get started on some piece of the problem. While normally there are a few students who approach the teacher for help, not knowing where or how to start, this was not the case with this problem.
Erin has also commented that she witnessed more sustained engagement with the problem – longer than she had seen before. Students spent over a week on the problem – and often self-organized into small working groups, depending on the specific part of the problem they were wrestling with.
• What about the difference in oxygen production between small trees and large trees?
• Don’t different sized people use different amounts of oxygen?
• Isn’t the population constantly changing?
• Isn’t the size of the Boreal Forest changing?
• What about areas of the Boreal forest with lakes or rivers?
Erin has commented that these questions made the math more realistic and authentic. The students quickly realized that they were carrying out calculations on moving targets – and understood why estimations and a critical understanding of information sources was important. During the ‘classroom discussions’ video – you can see how Erin embeds the importance of website credibility into the mathematical discussions. This approach allowed students to generate the necessary assumptions, which they were asked to comment on when creating their final podcast explanations.
3. This problem covered the right outcomes and was appropriate in challenge for this age group. One of the difficulties in structuring open-ended math questions like this is finding a problem that allows multiple entry and exit points and multiple solutions, but is also constricted enough to fit a particular grade. This problem worked very well for grade 6 – and the outcomes the teachers wanted to cover (place value, number sense, converting units) were all embedded and then discovered by the students.
This second video is an interview conducted with Erin Couillard after the students had completed the problem. Emily Brown and Darrell Lonsberry (CSS Principal) are also present during the interview. Watching this gives you a sense of the Erin’s thoughts about the problem – and where she wants to go next with her students.
There were two versions of the handout that got the students started. The teachers started with Version 1 – where they had planned to give the students all the sub-questions that they needed to solve. Version 2 – the one that was used in the classroom – has all the sub-questions removed, and just supplied the students with some (but not all) of the background information needed to solve the problem. You’ll find both versions below: