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Popcorn Solves Math Problems In Bronxville

Bronxville Middle School students are shown in math class using popcorn to figure out formulas.
Bronxville Middle School students are shown in math class using popcorn to figure out formulas. Photo Credit: Contributed

BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- Eighth-graders at Bronxville Middle School used paper, popcorn and plastic cubes to figure out the mathematical formula for volume of three-dimensional shapes in an assignment recently.

The lesson's aim was to spur the students to think critically, solve problems and make discoveries on their own.

Middle school math teachers Connor Mitchell and Jennifer Oliveri and high school teacher John Ruiz, who teaches an eighth-grade math course, designed the lesson as part of a long-term professional development method at the district called lesson study.

Rather than give them the formula, he teachers asked the students to create two different styles of containers out of paper, determine which container would hold more popcorn and then derive the mathematical formula for volume.

“Our theory was that if we engaged students in a project-based learning approach, they would be more likely to move from a procedural to a conceptual understanding regarding the volume of three-dimensional shapes,” Oliveri said.

The students brainstormed then filled their containers with popcorn, in one activity, while another activity had them estimate how many plastic cubes could fit inside each container.

In the process, they developed formulas and were challenged to explain why their calculations accurately found the volume of the containers.

“The rich and meaningful conversations students had with each other at the conclusion of the lesson proved that helping kids understand a general formula for volume, which is the area of the base times the height, would lead to long-term understanding of the concept, not just simply memorizing a formula,” Oliveri said.

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