We did an open-ended Maths project last week that was a lot of fun. It was a challenge for my third graders but I have to say they definitely rose to it and produced some thoughtful work.
We have a class pet - a tortoise named "The Tortoise" - who lives in a stupendous 4 ft x 2 ft habitat built by my husband and painted by my students. "The Tortoise" is in semi-hibernation right now so to appease my children (who keep trying to wake him up) we did a "design a habitat" project which introduced the concept of finding area. (I deliberately didn't tell them anything about area beforehand to see what would happen).
The object was to design a new habitat for a tortoise with a theoretical budget of $100 and a list of supplies. The habitat had to be either 10 feet square or 12 feet square but they were allowed to choose the dimensions.
Next up was purchasing supplies - they had to work out the area of the base and sides of the habitat and buy their wood (available by the square foot), purchase bedding (they had a choice of different substrates) decide which heat lamp to buy (that was a requirement to keep the tortoise warm) and then they could spend their remaining funds on plants and water bowls and houses if they wanted.
To help with finding area I gave them pre-printed "square foot" tiles on construction paper to cut out and arrange for the base and sides. They had a small counter for the tortoise so they could see exactly how much space he would have with the different arrangements they tried.
And to make it more fun I gave each group... a calculator!!
I wandered around the room making comments and suggestions but overall the kids did a great job. It was interesting hearing what their priorities were. One group of 4 was very focused on the needs of the tortoise while another group was much more interested in seeing how little they could spend.
When they had chosen all their supplies and added up the costs, they drew their habitat on one of the habitat boxes I provided. Only one group chose to do a 5 foot by 2 foot design - their tortoise needed a long space to run, they said! All the rest chose a 4 foot by 3 foot design.
The final part of the project was to write their reasons for choosing the design and supplies they decided on - justifying their purchases really. :)
It was a great project and the kids loved it.
Here's a picture of part of our Maths bulletin board with a finished project.
As an introduction to finding area it was perfect - what I really liked about the project was the fact that it was a real-life situation. The kids could see the application of the concept of finding area - and in our discussion afterwards they immediately grasped the idea that area can be measured in different units and some of them started working out the area of the classroom based on the number of ceiling tiles!! I've never had such an instant response to this before - it was quite something.
I put the whole project together as a freebie and posted it here if anyone is interested in looking at it and I'm definitely going to pursue this type of problem-solving Maths for my class. It's such a fabulous way to learn.