Consider Using a Theme for the Fair
Tanya Thompson, a teacher from Ontario, showed us how choosing a theme for the math fair helps the students focus and take ownership of their puzzle. The students have to find a way to cast their puzzles so that it has something to do with the theme. A theme also is an opportunity to tie various parts of the whole curriculum together (see the first two suggestions below).
Choose something from your literature course as a theme
A story or novel or epic can be a great source for a theme. For example, if your class happens to be studying Charlie and the chocolate factory, there are many episodes and situations in the story that can provide a setting for a puzzle. Choosing a theme like this provides a thread through all of the math puzzles and has the added benefit of engaging the students in the literature that they are studying.
Choose an historical epoch
Similar to the above, and with similar benefits, you can centre a theme around an historical event or period.
Choose a popular film as a theme
The year that the movie Lion King was popular, one elementary school showed it to all their students, and Lion King became the theme. All the presentations had to have something to do with the theme. One of the puzzles on our home page shows how they did it.
Choose a cultural theme
In another example, a junior high school had a large number of children who spoke Mandarin. The math fair was being held close to the Chinese New Year, and they chose a "Chinese-Canadian" theme. The puzzles were presented in Mandarin and in English, and there were various cultural activities running alongside the math fair.
Choose a seasonal theme
A math fair prepared by pre-service teachers for students from grades 3 through 9 was held in late November. Winter Wonderland was chosen as the theme and it elicited many positive comments from visiting teachers and students.
Choose an educational theme
A K through 12 school chose To Space and Beyond as a theme. Every project had to have something to do with outer space.
Choose a religious theme
If your school is a denominational one, perhaps you might choose a religious theme. At a local Jewish school, the teacher who organized the math fair had the students weave a Jewish theme into the puzzles. (It is worth mentioning that the teacher was not Jewish, so the children were indeed the experts for this theme.)
Choose a sport as a theme
Is your class "into" a sport like basketball or football? Try using sports as a theme. Balls, pucks, and other sports paraphernalia offer lots of opportunities for manipulatives.