Setting up a math fair based on the four SNAP guidelines can be done in several ways. This section contains suggestions about how to have your students and your school prepare for a SNAP math fair.
In a math fair, students should work in small groups, the puzzles have to be distributed, and each group has to solve its puzzle. Then the students prepare their displays, have a rehearsal, and finally present the math fair to the public.
Doing math should not be an isolated activity. Different students bring different skills to the group. Future leaders have to learn about cooperation. Working in small groups also allows students to take turns at the math fair. Some can man their booth while other members of the group visit the other displays.
How to do this is the teacher's call. You can use anything from a cookie jar approach to assigning special problems to specific students, although either extreme is probably not optimal. Teachers who wish to have students work on more than one problem have accomplished this in different ways. A common way is to supply a collection of puzzles from which the math fair will be chosen. Each student works on most of the puzzles, and the groups are not determined until later. This is especially useful if you have a math fair club.
For the earlier grades, some teachers have the entire class work together to solve all of problems that will be presented at the math fair. Afterwards, the student groups choose which problems they each will do for the fair.
This is the real reason for the math fair! Students develop problem-solving skills by solving challenging problems. A good puzzle takes time to solve, certainly more than a few minutes, and sometimes more than one day, so sufficient time has to be allotted for this part of the math fair.
In the process of solving the puzzle, older students should be encouraged to prepare different levels of the puzzle that will appeal to both younger and older visitors.
An attractive display is more than a few minutes work. The actual amount of time required will depend upon the complexity of the display. If students work on the fair as part of their daily schedule, at least two days is a minimum. There is much opportunity for interdisciplinary work in the preparation of the displays. The displays can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Some examples are described below.
The students should be aware that the display has two purposes: to help present the puzzle (not the answer) to the math fair visitors, and to tempt the visitors to try the puzzle. Among other things, this means that solutions should not be included as part of the display—the students, not the display boards, are the experts. Also, variations of the puzzle should not be labeled "easy", "medium", and "hard". Such labels discourage visitors from attempting the puzzle.
An in-house rehearsal will reveal any glitches in the the students' presentation. Any flimsy parts of the display will be discovered, and the students will have chance to show that they really are the experts for their problems. The rehearsal can be done in several ways. Either each group can present to the rest of their class, or the whole fair can be set up for a true dress rehearsal. In the latter case, one half of each group presents the math fair to the rest of the students, and then they switch roles after about an hour.
The math fair is set up in an appropriate place, for example in the school gymnasium, or in a shopping mall, or even in the classroom. The students man their booths, and the public is invited to try their puzzles. Below are some suggestions about who to invite to the math fairs.
Typically, a math fair lasts from one to two hours, but some may last considerably longer. Time should be allowed for students to have breaks and food. Some teachers have organized math fairs with rotations. Each project is presided over by at least two students, and one student visits the other projects while the rest of the group remains with their own project. After a certain amount of time, the students rotate duties much like what what is described for the rehearsal.
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).
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.
Similar to the above, and with similar benefits, you can centre a theme around an historical event or period.
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.
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.
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.
A K through 12 school chose To Space and Beyond as a theme. Every project had to have something to do with outer space.
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.)
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.
A common form of display is a tri-fold board that describes the puzzle, with the manipulatives on the table in front of the board. The tri-fold board can be a commercial one, or home-made from cardboard boxes. Some school districts might sell large (2 metres high) tri-folds that can be sawn in half or thirds and re-used.
Danielle Chassé, an elementary teacher from Alberta, was faced with limited space and funds. She had the children make their own tri-folds by pasting two file folders together. For manipulatives, students used pieces that were standard in the classroom. In addition, the students had to make sure that they could store all parts of their display (except the manipulatives) inside the closed tri-folds and keep them in their desks. The total cost of the math fair for five classs of about 25 students was less than $60.00.
Many math fairs do not use display boards at all - the problems are presented on art paper that lies flat on the desk or table.
Another math fair, whose school and parents have many resources, had a rule that all displays must be three dimensional. Students used a variety of materials to make such displays: milk crates, cardboard boxes, etc., which were covered with art paper or cloth.
Sometimes the major part of the display might be a large board that is taped to the floor — with the math fair visitors becoming the manipulative pieces.
For a math fair presented by elementary students, an obvious group to invite are the parents and guardians of the students, but there are other options as well. For example, in one school, each class produced their own math fair, with about six to eight puzzles, and the classes visited each other. In order to avoid duplication of the puzzles, a coordinator was appointed to ensure that the same puzzle was not used in two or more classrooms.
We have also seen this idea used between schools, where schools can pair up, and each visits the other's math fair. As in the earlier situation, a certain amount of coordination helps avoid too much duplication of the puzzles.
There are also situations where, for whatever reasons, parents and guardians are simply not interested in visiting the school. (One hopes that activities like math fairs will help change this). In such a situation, you could have one group of students present their math fair to another group. This approach has worked in junior high schools, where, for example, each year the grade nine classes present a math fair to the grade eight students, thereby creating something of a tradition that the grade eight students look forward to when they enter grade nine.
Junior high schools have also invited students from nearby elementary schools, using it as a recruiting tool.
Some schools have presented math fairs during parent-teacher nights. Visitors who might not ordinarily visit the school were thus able to see that the math curriculum included more than just rote exercises in addition and multiplication, and that their children were actually learning how to reason.
At the college or university level, the college students have presented math fairs to elementary and junior high students. There are two options here: the math fair can be taken to the school, or the schools can be invited to bring their students to the university. This has proved to be immensely popular in places where is has been done, and schools can use the university event as a model for doing their own math fair later.
Consider the possibility of inviting guest speakers. Are you in or near a college town? Often there are people in the Math department, or in the Education faculty who are interested in pre-university mathematics. If there is nobody directly involved with math fairs, look for people who have helped organize such things as math competitions, or who are known to be interested in what is commonly called "recreational mathematics".
Perhaps your local government representative might be interested.
If you wish to invite a speaker, and are not sure who to invite, see our list of contacts—we might be able to suggest someone.
A gentle warning might be in order here. For many people, the words "math fair" conjure up the image of a traditional science fair along with its poster presentations and attendant competition. All visiting speakers should be made aware that a SNAP math fair is quite different. Calling your math fair a SNAP math fair can help explain that it is not like a competitive science fair.
Teachers have asked about timelines, and a possibility is presented below. This is an optional one for a fairly complex math fair. In many cases, a two-week preparation is sufficient, so the timeline can be fairly short and concentrated.
The following timeline is for a math fair that is integrated into the curriculum where it is related not only to problem-solving but also to other parts of the student's education. Although the timeline itself spans several weeks, the amount of time that the students actually spend in preparing for the fair is quite brief.
|At the start of the term:||Arrange with the art, language arts, and computer instructors for any cross-curricular activity. Decide on a theme for the math fair if you wish.|
|5 weeks prior to the fair:||Collect puzzles for students. Obtain resources (cardboard, paint, glue etc.) that might be needed.|
|4 weeks prior:||Inform students, print a newsletter for parents and guardians about the math fair. Include information about how projects will be graded for the math fair. Also inform everyone that it is noncompetitive.|
|3 weeks prior:||Determine students groups, distribute puzzles to students, go over the puzzles with the students to make sure they understand them. Students begin solving their puzzles (an activity that should take place in class).|
|2 weeks prior:||Students should have solved their puzzles by now. Students now have to transform the puzzle so that it can be presented to the public. If the math fair has a theme, the problem should be adapted to the theme. Students start preparing their presentations.|
|1 week prior:||Dress rehearsal. After this, students repair any problems with their presentation materials.|
If there are other activities associated with the math fair, you may have to adjust your timeline. For example, if you are inviting guest speakers, or if you are inviting the press, you will have to include this in the timeline. Also, if you wish to evaluate your students' performance at the math fair, you may need to include that as well.
My assignment was that of an "In School Specialist" designated to assist classroom teachers in any work concerning our Instructional Focus, Language Arts and Mathematics. Therefore I had to think of a way that I could make a math fair work, knowing that I would be doing this independent of the classroom teachers due to the lack of time left in the school year. After some thought and brainstorming with Suzanne, we decided that a "Math Fair Club" might be the answer.
I asked the Grade 4, 5, 6 and the Senior Adaptation classes if I could spend a few moments explaining to the students what a Math Fair was and to see if anyone was interested in joining my club. Much to my delight over 80 children signed up before I even got into the Grade 6 classes! Since this was such a high number I decided not to invite the Grade 6's to join. As it turns out, 65 children consistently came to the meetings which were held during the lunch hour. At first I divided the students into 3 groups that met on different days in the gymnasium every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As the students became more independent on their projects, I allowed them to join us on any of those three days. It was a crazy time but the kids loved it and so did I.
The Math Fair was a great success considering the amount of time we had to organize it and the fact that I had very little adult help. The next year, the children were stopping me in the hall to ask when the Math Fair Club was starting. We began the club in November, which gave us plenty of time to prepare for the event without rushing things.Tracy Poulin