Engaging Students in Math Problems - Tried it Tuesday

It has hit, the end of summer panic is setting in! I have been relaxing and enjoying the summer but I can feel the panic slowly setting in and the ideas are popping into my head at the worst times (a.k.a. when I am sleeping!!) and everything I see I try and think....how can I use this in my class.

Luckily (for the idea generation) a big part of our summer has been this...

These are the lovely creatures bunking in with us. There is our dog Faith and our fish. We are also hosting two African Dwarf frogs - my daughter's class pets that she offered to watch for the summer. We are also hosting our friends' bearded dragon while they are gone and with the lizard comes crickets.

Last year I used pictures of the bearded dragon and the crickets to engage students in solving a math problem. It was our first problem of the year, my students were still getting to know me and I took the opportunity to introduce them to a little bit about me and my family through this problem. I showed them pictures of our pets, my daughters and the lizard. We shared what we knew about lizards and pets. We talked about what they ate (kale, mealworms and crickets). Then I showed them pictures of where the crickets lived and how we had to get them out of their home to feed the lizard. The cricket house has 2 black tubes that the crickets crawl into. I told my students that I needed 10 crickets and I knew that there were 10 left in the house but I couldn't see them cause they were in the tubes. They needed to figure out how many crickets could be in each tube. This was a great opportunity for me to observe how they attacked a problem, how they modelled their thinking and if they could find more than one solution.

This year we have the lizard again.....and I could use the lizard or frogs to set the stage for some math problem solving...but one night this happened....

my husband found this super cute, super small rabbit all alone in our yard while cutting the grass. Needless to say we all fell promptly in love and my daughters starting making plans for our "new pet". But being the mom meant I had to put on my grown-up pants and do some research about what we should do. What I found out (Google to the rescue) is we should not try to keep or feed these sweet creature but put it back to where we think its home might be. So basically, I was the most hated person in the world for a bit. But I did learn a lot in my research - mostly that you can kill a little bunny by over feeding it and a lot of people do that. Also that its mom would be back later that night to feed him. Soooo we took a gazillion pictures, spent time watching the sweet little guy and then tried to get him home.

Here are some pictures:

He checked us out too!

Took some time for some personal hygiene.

Size reference - I have normal size hands just in case you were wondering.

Returning the little guy to where we think he belongs.

Hanging out in the raspberry bush.

....and he's back, he hopped right on back to us, a sure sign my daughters felt that we should keep him.

She is keeping on eye on the little guy because....

...she is keeping an eye on the neighbour's cat who looked ready to attack!

It was a long night of watching and wondering and......this will be my first math problem with my students.

I will tell them about the little rabbit we found in our backyard one night this summer. I will ask students to think-pair-share what they know about rabbits.

We will do a little research on-line together about rabbits and record what we learn.
We will also record our wonderings.

From the wonderings I will introduce my question...

We will be working on the anchor of 5 - which is perfect since cottontails usually have 5 babies in a liter (a few times a year!!!). So we will work on making models of 5.
Bu there are other questions you could do with these picture prompts and story...
 Using the hand as a reference they could use a variety of tools to come up with an estimate (perfect time to review the importance of the word "about" and how to make an estimation).

If you do some class research you will find that the rabbit needs about 2 or 2.5 mL of food twice a day. This is an easy introduction into two step problems.
Another question could be about how long does the rabbit need to wait for its mom to show up - looking at elapsed time etc.
You could also use it as introduction for some science concepts: needs of living things, characteristics of animals, predators and prey (what could my daughters be trying to protect it from?).
I find that sharing stories about myself and my family are a perfect way to engage students in math problem solving. At the beginning of the year it is a great way to share a bit about myself and get them to share about themselves.They love the personal connection and talking about math that has a real life connection. As the year progresses the math that we work with is related to their lives and our classroom but I love starting out this way.
If you would like to engage students in some problem solving and/or research about a cute little bunny rabbit but were not lucky enough to have one show up in your backyard you can use my pictures and problems. You can tell your class the story about something that happened to a friend of yours (we are friends, right?) or make up your own story and problems to go with the pictures.
Since this is something that I have tried an will be trying again I am linking up with my friend Holly at Fourth Grade Flipper for .....


  1. Oh my goodness AMC!!! I can imagine that your girls were very sad to say goodbye to that sweet face. I had something like this happen when I was in middle or high school, and I couldn't keep it either. :( MOMS ARE SO MEAN!! :-P I love your ideas to get your kids engaged so quickly! xoxo

  2. OMG!! My husband once brought a little one like this home after it was stranded in his schoolyard. We took it to a farm where there were many other rabbits to (hopefully) take it in. I think if he could do it over he'd have kept it! ;)

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

  3. Those baby bunnies are so cute! There are a lot of them this year too! I've heard that you're not supposed to keep wild bunnies as pets so you made the right choice - as far as the bunny goes! They do drive my dog crazy!

  4. What a FABULOUS way to use real-life math in the classroom. My next door neighbor used to raise rabbits...lots would get loose and they were always all over my yard. I always wanted to keep them and my mom said, "NO". I did get to keep a goldfish from the fair that I won. I named him Abraham Lincoln and he lived a whole two days. Lol
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  5. I love this idea! It's the perfect way to build community and practice real-life problem solving at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  6. This is such an amazing idea to bring real life into the classroom! Your students will just eat this up I'm sure. When I was about ten years old, our German Shepherd attacked some baby bunnies and a couple survived. We nursed them back to health and my mom made us release them. We always had families of bunnies in the yard and I thought about how they must be related to the ones we saved! :) Thanks for linking up, friend!
    Fourth Grade Flipper


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