Math Wonderment Brought to Life

Several years ago I introduced my advisory to the idea of “Genius Hour.”  For those of you not familiar with Genius Hour, the idea was taken from Google and their 20% time.  Simply put, it is a way for students to spend time studying concepts that they are interested in, things they are passionate about, and in a way that truly engages them at deeper levels.*

This year, I was working with a colleague and we were discussing the idea of doing something a little different on Fridays, rather than 5 consecutive days of lessons every week.  We talked about several things, including incorporating more projects/presentations/posters that correlated with the main concepts of the specific chapter.

I agreed to try to do something with this idea, utilizing the work I had already done with Genius Hour.  However, in this instance I am tying it directly to mathematics.  I came up with the idea for what I now refer to as a “Free Form Friday.”  The idea is to engage students at a deeper mathematical level and allow them to think mathematically in areas in which they are interested or curious.  In the interest of full disclosure, I do have an 80-minute math block each day, so I have time that some teachers can only dream of.

There were two main inspirations as I began to develop this idea.  The first is Dan Meyer and his idea of real work vs real world math (see figure 1 below).  As Meyer puts it, “Real work– interesting work, the sort of work students might like to do later in life –involves problem formulation and question development.”  (http://blog.mrmeyer.com/2014/developing-the-question-real-work-v-real-world/).

Figure 1

The second is Ian Byrd and his “doses of weekly curiosities and puzzlements.” (https://www.byrdseed.com/mathematical-curiosities/?icn=srs)

I have worked this first semester to develop a basic format for our Free Form Fridays, though there is plenty of room for student choice and variance.  Based on my own educational philosophy and student feedback, here are some things that I feel have been very worthwhile in our Free Form Friday:

  • Weekly Success Chat – this is one I picked up from a keynote at the AMLE National Conference. Too often, we do not stop and focus on the positives that are happening in our lives. Promoting more positivity will help create the culture we want to have in our classroom and our school. I have them post (through a Google form) responses to 2 questions about their week (what they were most proud of, something that was a highlight, a memorable moment … anything that makes them think of a positive event in the past week).
  • Math Talk – some refer to these as number talks, but I use a different terminology that encompasses a broader framework.  Steve Wyborney and Sarah Vanderwerf have been an incredible resource for these.
  • Team Building Activity  — with the emphasis on collaborative teamwork, many of my students have shared insights that they do not work well as a team and would like to learn how to work together better.  When we have done these on Fridays, the students respond very well.  I have seen the carry over into my daily classroom activities.
  • Math Curiosity  — these have been an incredibly rewarding time of thinking mathematically through a variety of different topics from Collatz’s Conjecture to the Fibonacci sequence, from the 4 Color Problem to Pythagoras, from squaring primes to squaring the square and more.  The book, Mathematical Curiosities: a Treasure Trove of Unexpected Entertainments, has served me well in this regard.  The two main questions I always ask:  “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?”
  • Activities Involving Desmos – this has been an incredibly engaging resource that has impacted our “regular” daily lessons, but most of it stems from their explorations on Fridays.
  • Student Choice – this could be a further exploration of one of the above, researching a new topic of their choice (teacher approval required), or a chance to work more on mastery of grade-level concepts.

In future blog posts, I will expound on each of these components in more detail.  In surveys of my students, they unanimously talk about how much they love these days.  Thus, I want to encourage each of you to think about having a Free Form Friday – whether it is once a week, once a month or once a quarter – as a way to engage students at a deeper level.

*For more information on Genius Hour in education, see the Google doc I have created at:

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