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Sixth Grade Math Investigation Asks Students to Document Problem-Solving Process

John Williams theme music played in the background and a fantastical feeling was in the air as sixth graders were introduced to Pigzits Academy, a magical school that would serve as the backdrop for the class’s math investigation. Instead of doing magic, students were solving problems and making formulas. For their investigation, sixth graders were tasked with a problem-solving project that revolved around the Pigzits’ magical lockers asking them to determine how many of the school’s 1,000 lockers were left open after students had cast locker-opening spells, and then opened and shut various lockers along the hallways. Working in groups, sixth graders pulled from lessons on common factors and prime factorization to tackle the problem, before preparing a report to document their findings.

The math investigation assessed students’ understanding of major topics from the unit they were concluding. More important, it encouraged them to dig deeper into their understanding – applying their knowledge to something that’s not just a worksheet and articulating concepts in their own words. With the scalability of the math investigation, everyone in the class had something to improve upon and something to gain.

Middle School Learning Support Coordinator Dana Marra was an architect of the locker problem. As she explains, “The most important part is not the calculation, but the explanation of students’ thinking and why the strategy they chose works.” The locker problem focused on having students share their thought processes, showing that even if there’s one correct answer, there are many ways to arrive at that answer.

When it came to actually solving the locker problem, no one was able to determine the correct number of lockers left open right away. Sixth graders had to collaborate and learn from one another; working with partners required them to think in a different way, as well as share with and listen to their peers. At the start of each class, students discussed which strategies worked well, and what they had to change moving forward. Students were asked to reflect on their choices and how what they were doing was connected to what they previously learned. As a result, students were able to guide themselves to the answer. To wrap up the project, sixth graders put together a Google Slides presentation that chronicled how they determined the number of lockers left open.

The world of Pigzits Academy made learning more engaging and helped students push through some of the more challenging aspects of math. Their investigation proved to sixth graders that some math may require multiple attempts to arrive at a solution, but they have the tools to find the answer. By being granted the space to work through the problem, students’ thought processes were validated – empowering them to use their problem-solving skills well beyond the magical environment of Pigzits Academy.