Mr. Jones' Room

1st-4th Math Coach Constantly Searching for New Ideas

My First Shot at “Perplexity”

I’m jealous of more advanced math teachers/coaches…You guys get parabolas (i.e. Dan Meyer’s Basketball Shot) BUILT IN PERPLEXITY!! This is totally unfair. Even Upper Elementary teachers get rates/proportions (i.e. Dan Meyer’s Nana’s Paint Mix Up). I’m in 1st-4th grade and I have found that there’s a lack of ready-made activities that include what Dan Meyer calls “perplexing” material. If you are reading this and thinking “who’s Dan Meyer” and “why does he keep mentioning Dan Meyer” then you should really check out his blog because it inspired me to start my own. His TEDx talk is also a great place to start.

The question for 1st – 4th grade is whether or not the students can make the leap from “perplexing” material to conceptual understanding in the context that they are taught. Elementary students typically have teachers that are responsible for covering everything…not just math, not just ELA, not just science, etc. This makes it difficult for teachers of younger students to devote the time necessary to crafting truly meaningful math activities. I hope that I can begin to fill that void, though I imagine that I’ll be putting a drop in the proverbial bucket. I’ve put many 1st-4th Illustrative Mathematics and Illuminations activities in one place in my virtual filing cabinets in an attempt to make it easier for teachers. As time goes on, I will continue to accumulate activities and share them. But, I wanted to challenge myself to make something meaningful for my students from scratch. I found myself on Google Earth, using the measuring tool to see how far away my house is from my school in a straight line (I was bored…). It dawned on me that I could measure anything from the perimeter of Fenway Park, to the radius of Madison Square Garden. What if the students were shown a picture of something they knew with lines and no numbers. Could they ask the right questions for us to figure out the area of their school’s gym? How about the handball courts in the back of the school? Why would we need to do this?

Start with something simple...The gym needs a new roof. It immediately got the kids shouting out ideas...

Start with something simple…The gym needs a new roof. It immediately got the kids shouting out ideas…

The kids began to talk about Home Depot, and who they’d hire to help. This led to a discussion of materials, but we needed something else first.

A simple question...

A simple question…

What do we need to know? How would we get the information? Do we need help or do we have the tools available  to us?

Slide03 Slide04

The students asked for the length and width and were given the information necessary. This was a 4th grade class that was struggling…I mean strugggggggggling with two-digit by two-digit multiplication. So I used this as a way to remind them about expanding the numbers and drawing the boxes to multiply. We found that the area of the roof is 875 square yards. I think this was a really valuable learning experience. Will any of them have to do this in the “real-world?” Who knows? Maybe, maybe not. But, the pictures and slides set into motion a new enthusiasm about solving it because it was their school, it was their gym. It was something they know like the back of their hand. Maybe next time they’ll look up at the ceiling and remember how they figured out the area.

I’m sure that they had seen enough of this:


Who is Mandy?!

Who is Mandy?!


Just leave us alone already...

Just leave us alone already…

Is it possible that, for some, the pictures from Google Earth were as boring as the textbook? Possibly…but I think I got through to a few kids who had zoned out of area a few lessons ago. I’m going to chalk it up as a win for today…hopefully many more activities like this one to come.

10 comments on “My First Shot at “Perplexity”

  1. Joe Schwartz
    April 13, 2014

    Matt, great work here. We are facing similar issues in designing tasks to fit elementary school kids and curriculum, which am also exploring on my blog:
    Embedding the multi-digit multiplication in the area of the roof task is, I think, a very powerful template. We are trying to do this in our 4th and 5th grade classrooms in the context of our own “homemade” Andrew Stadel estimation180-type activities.

    • matt13jones
      April 13, 2014

      I’ve borrowed my fair share of activities from your site! It’s tough to find developmentally appropriate activities that capture the great ideas of Dan Meyer/Andrew Stadel/Robert Kaplinsky/etc. on a lower level. This activity went really well though and I think it’s something that will serve as a good start to get the kids more interested in what math can be.

  2. Pingback: dy/dan » Blog Archive » Great Classroom Action

  3. Julie
    April 24, 2014

    Thank you! I’m bookmarking your blog right now. I’ve spent a lot of time browsing Dan’s blog, videos, and google doc of perplexing ideas – I really want to create fantastic problems like his for my fourth grade classroom. However, projects like that always go to the back burner since I need to plan for other curriculum areas. I’m excited to try what you create! Again, thank you!!
    (BTW, I found you through a link on Dan’s blog.)

  4. What a fantastic idea! I’m always looking for “Dan Meyer” type ideas for elementary school too. We’ve been talking about solar energy in our third grade class. You gave me the idea of having them calculate the area of our building’s roof, then calculate the number of solar panels they’d need to cover it. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Turtle Gunn Toms
    April 29, 2014

    Hi Matt-
    Love your thinking, and love even more the fact that you’ve made it visible. Just in case you haven’t already found them, here are a few fellow elementary 3-actors:,,
    You’ve already found Joe Schwartz, another favorite.
    Also, just an FYI, when Georgia DOE mathematics units are revised and rereleased on July 1, each unit will have a minimum of one 3-act included. We see the need, and have teacher/coach teams working to meet it. Please feel free to join our K-5 Mathematics Wiki: I’m adding a discussion/sharing page about 3-acts today!


    • matt13jones
      April 29, 2014

      Thanks so much for your post! I’m only familiar with Graham out of your suggestions so I’ll definitely have to check it out!

      That’s amazing about Georgia, I might have to move down there because I got a look of utter confusion when presenting the idea of a 3-Act to some colleagues today. I will definitely check out the wiki as well, I’ve been searching for more elementary activities. I have been attempting to get creative on my own but having resources like this is amazing!

      Keep in touch and let me know how that all goes as the 3-Acts become more prevalent.

  6. Chris Watson
    May 1, 2014

    Hi Matt –

    I did a similar activity with my high school freshmen this year, but with more steps:

    “My neighbor and I share a driveway. He has a parking pad in front, I have one in the back. Here’s a view from Google Maps:

    The dotted line on the map is the split between our properties, and the red section at the top is 4 feet wide (it’s the stairs to my deck).

    When we get the driveway re-paved, what percentage of the cost should I pay?”

    • matt13jones
      May 1, 2014

      I wish I could do something along those lines but I’m limited by being in a school that only has 1st-4th grade.

      I think what you did was great, I love the picture. And, I love using Google Earth for this purpose! Such a great tool..

    • Martin Joyce
      January 11, 2015

      That is awesome. I love the 45 degree angle and real life situation. I want to do this with my backyard and how I redesigned it. Also have a fire pit to include circles, I’ll have to share! Thanks for sharing yours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 10, 2014 by in Everyday and tagged , , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: