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Five Free Math Class Project Ideas for Teachers

In this post, I’ve compiled some interesting math class project ideas, group work and activities to incorporate into your classroom. Some of these teamwork, research and individual class projects I have tried with students already. Many were a big success. I hope that you will feel inspired by these ideas. Please share your thoughts by commenting below! I would love to hear more ideas from you. 

Why do we care about math class project ideas? 

There are many reasons why class projects can be useful for both teachers and students. Especially in mathematics, students often ask questions like “Why do I need to know this?”. I have found that sometimes, it is easier to help students discover the magic of math and its applications themselves. This can give students more perspective about why they are learning these mathematical concepts and how to apply them in their own lives, no matter what their interests and career aspirations are. These project ideas will hopefully inspire students to develop their critical thinking skills and help them understand what makes mathematics so important.

How can class projects be useful in a math class? 

Class projects can be useful in many different ways. They help to break up the monotony of all the homework assignments and tests. They also help students discover how math can be applicable in their own lives. Some projects ideas listed below can even help inspire students to follow a career path that involves math. These math class project ideas can also help students develop more valuable teamwork and presentation skills.

How can we integrate class projects in an online classroom? 

When compiling this list of math class project ideas, I aim to be considerate of the current needs of our teachers and community during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Many classrooms are now online, and teachers are having to rethink much of their curriculum material. I hope that these ideas can be helpful and I invite you to share your ideas and feedback as well. All of these projects should be doable while maintaining social distancing. Through the use of products like Zoom and Skype, students should be able to communicate with their teachers and each other. More details on how this can be done are listed under each math class project idea. 

How can we encourage students to work together in math class? 

Many technical positions require teamwork and interpersonal skills. However, these skills tend to be underdeveloped in students who focus on technical classes. Because of this, it’s really important to give students opportunities to work together and present their findings to each other. Even though most of our classrooms have moved online, students should be able to contact each other through technologies such as email, Zoom and Skype. In fact, these students may find technological solutions for staying connected that we as teachers have not yet discovered!

These math class project ideas are flexible. Students can either perform the research and reflections together or individually. Alternately, you can put students with different ideas into small groups and ask them to present to each other and share what they’ve learned. Being able to explain math to colleagues is another valuable career skill. 

Here is the list of five project ideas for math classes:

1. Have students read a news article that includes graphs, data or key vocabulary words.

You can either select the articles for your students, or you can ask them to browse the web online and find their own. Next, I like to ask questions that guide the learning process.  The first few questions that students must fill out are on the basics of the math in the article. What vocabulary words do they notice? If there is a graph, what variables are being graphed? What trends do they see? Then I ask about what conclusions are stated in the article and ask what students think about these conclusions. Is it possible there is a biased or misleading conclusion? What problem solving methods were used? If the student were to conduct further research into this area, what would the student be interested in learning?

I love having students do this exercise because it helps relate what we learn in the classroom to real world situations. It also helps students learn to think for themselves and be critical of the many “click bait” type articles that use math to support their claims. This activity can be done by posting the articles and questions online, then asking students to answer the questions (either individually or as a group) and share their thoughts online using a system like Canvas, Blackboard or Zoom.

2. Ask students to interview someone who’s job uses math or statistics.

This project is a great idea for helping students explore career paths and understand the value of learning math. There are many great career opportunities for students who like math, such as actuarial science, teaching math, engineering and finance. It is also helpful for students to understand how math is used in other careers. For example, a student could interview a retail worker about the math behind discounts, or a waiter to learn more about calculating and adding up tips. For students who have already decided on a future career, this can be a great opportunity to start networking with professionals in that field and understand what math concepts can be useful for them to learn now in order to prepare. Students can reach out to professionals and interview them using Skype, email, or Zoom in order to learn successfully while also maintaining social distance. 

3. Ask students to pick something (technology, artwork or nature) and write a report about the mathematics behind how it works.

There are many wonderful ways in which math is incorporated with the world around us. This subject is highly involved with music theory, for example. Art also has a lot of mathematical principles such as the golden ratio, and fractals which also appear in nature. Students may enjoy having a chance to explore their creativity and see how math touches many subjects that may not seem very “mathematical” at first glance. This activity can be done online and at home, with students picking an area of interest and researching online, then electronically turning in their responses. This can be made into a group project where students pick different mathematical concepts relating to the same overall category, or where students each pick something different and share with each other and reflect.

4. Ask students to view an applied math or statistics colloquium from university and write a reflection.

This is one of my favorite projects that a professor of mine would assign for extra credit. Even though I always liked math, it wasn’t until I went to applied math colloquia that I became fascinated with the ways in which math is applied in different areas. Luckily for us, many universities have colloquiums and lectures posted online that anyone can view for free. If you have trouble finding one, comment below or email me and I’m happy to send you some resources. Students can reflect on what concepts they understand from the talk, what they do not understand, what they are interested in learning more about, and how they think these mathematical concepts can be applied in other ways. This type of reflection and learning helped me become passionate about the field of mathematics and will hopefully inspire some of your students as well!

5. Have students watch a movie with a historical math based plot and write about what really happened in the real life story.

There are many amazing math movies available such as Stand and Deliver, Hidden Figures and the Imitation Game, that are all based on true stories. Asking students to pick a movie to watch and then dig into the real history behind the movie can be a fun way to bring context to what they are learning in the classroom. An alternate idea is to ask students to pick a famous mathematician and write about that person’s life and how they contributed to the field of mathematics. Students will hopefully have more understanding of the importance of math throughout history and be excited about the possibilities of future math research. Once again, this research can be done online by students and can be turned in electronically. 

Please share your thoughts and ideas!

What math class project ideas do you have? What math projects have you incorporated into your classroom? How did it go? Join the discussion and leave a comment!

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