Friday, March 8, 2013

Week Twenty-Four, March 4-8, 2013

This week has been the best week of my professional career.  I have never had as much fun or been as impressed with my students as I was this week!!

So, about a month and a half ago I had an idea.  I've always seen teachers and schools that do science fairs. I love watching them!!  But as a math teacher I've always been slightly jealous that I could never do that with my kids.  Then I thought, "why can't I??"  So that's when the idea of a Math Fair came to mind.  So I told my students that I wanted to do a Math Fair...and it was perfect timing too because we had JUST done a Skype with Jack Andraka (winner of ISEF 2012) and they had gotten a glimpse of his Science Fair project (as well as he sent a "good luck" tweet to my students the day of their big math fair)

So what we did is I allowed them to pick any topic they wanted to.  Something they were passionate about or had an interest in.  And then all they had to do was show me at least 6 ways that math was involved in their topic.  The kids chose all kinds of awesome topics...A few were Minecraft, Zoo Keeper, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Machinist, Architect, Football, Ballet, Karate, Macaroni and Cheese, Nike, Birdhouses, and sooooo much more!

The kids had to design a complete project.  They had to have visuals, a two minute minimum presentation, and they had to "dress the part".  I've attached a rubric so you can see how I graded them and laid out my expectations:

I gave them a little over a month to work on their projects and we did not spend one second working on it in class.  Now, to say I was nervous about the outcomes is an understatement.  I have spent the last 7 months teaching my students in a completely PBL (Project Based Learning) environment.  They are clear of my expectations.  And I was very clear on this project that I wanted them to think outside of the box, be as creative as possible, and blow me away!

The projects were due on Tuesday of this week.  So Tuesday and Wednesday the students had to present their projects in class so that way not only could they practice but also so the other students and I could provide constructive criticism and feedback.  When the students started presenting, I was blown away!  They had come soooo prepared....keep in mind these are FIFTH GRADERS (10 year olds!!!)

Now granted, there were some kids who just read off their poster or didn't make much eye contact, but they're not used to presenting, so I gave quite a bit of feedback and let them really know what I was expecting of them come the night of the math fair.

As the week continued and the students saw more and more projects, they became more and more competitive.  I had students begging to me to take their projects back home so they could make some alterations (after they had seen some of the other students).  I was shocked by their imagination and interest in continually making their projects and speeches better.  All I told them was that they better make sure their projects were back in my class by Thursday.

Thursday afternoon from 1:20pm-3:15pm my students set their projects up in our cafeteria so that the other grade levels could come through and check them out.  Out of my 75 students only 2 did not do a project.  That's amazing.

The other grade level kids were blown away!  I know they learned so much by listening to my 5th graders.  And my 5th graders loved it because it gave them lots of practice before their "big debut" that night. (Several also made a comment about how hard it is to talk and stand for a while and I told them "welcome to my world" haha)

That night from 6:00-7:30pm we had our first ever Math Fair.  Now, I made presenting at the math fair MANDATORY and told them if they weren't there it would be points off their grades.  As a school we have never made anything after school mandatory.  But I am a firm believer that if you set your expectations high and don't back down students will rise to your expectations.  Out of 75 students I only had 3 students not show up (and two of those were the boys who didn't do their projects).\

We also had over 250 adults show up for the math Fair.  I can tell you that in my 6 years of teaching at this school, I have NEVER had that many parents show up for anything we've done.  But my students were so professional, they were so well spoken, and most of all they were ALL beaming with pride about their projects.

I had several parents comment to me about how shocked they were at how well put together, organized  and flat out impressed they were with every presentation.  Parents kept wanting to tell me congrats and to give me the credit, but I continually had to tell them, that I was completely hands off and the kids did ALL the work themselves.

I can honestly say that I have never been more proud of any group of students I have ever worked with.  These kids blew my mind with the amount of work and creativity they instilled in their projects.  I had students bring real life horses and ponies for their projects.  I had students making food, doing science experiments, and bringing other items to pass out at their booth (of course it always had to do with their project).

And my favorite booth was "Jack-in-the-Box".  Not only did this kid do a magnificent job presenting but he also made his entire costume!! Including the Jack head made out of paper mache.

I will add though that I had parents vote with ballots on their favorite presentations and the next day (Today; Friday) we announced the top 20 projects!  I also had my wife go by every booth and take a picture of each student with their project so that we can create a giant collage to hang in the foyer of our school.  And the Top 20 best overall projects are getting a pizza party and their own "Top 20" Collage poster also in the Foyer.

As students showed up for school this morning they were STILL talking about how much fun they had. To me, that is the biggest sign of success.

Inspire your students.  That's a statement I live by.  I am continually trying to find ways to push my students to better than they ever imagined.  This is a random idea that just came to me and the outcome has been more than I could have imagined.  I have never seen kids so proud of themselves and the work they put into something, much less the pride on the parents, grandparents, neighbors, and staff members faces.  And my students have set the bar SO HIGH for next years group!


  1. Awesome! Am going to share this story round some of the schools I visit!

  2. I hate to be negative but when 5th graders do awesome work like this outside of class, I can guarantee that parents, grandparents, and adults had a lot to do with the finished product. If getting help from adults was part of the project fine, but my guess is that it wasn't. I teach awesome high school kids but fi they were assigned to do a project like this, they wouldn't have thought of using bulletin board letters from the teacher store or have been able to create a perfect sphere out of papier mache on their own. I'm guessing you teach in a relatively wealthy area with educated parents who can help with ideas and have the money to buy the cool accoutrements, like lab coats, that the kids employed in their projects. I'm not criticizing the project because I think it was a great way to get math applications across to kids and parents but let's give credit where credit is due...the student and the adults in his life who support him/her. I'll bet the two boys who didn't do the project don't have the same adult support in their lives as all the others and what a shame that they had to miss out on carrying out a project like this.

    1. I submitted the above comment. This was my first time commenting and I did not intend to be "Unknown." I teach high school math in New Jersey and my email address is

    2. Thanks for your comment! I actually do NOT teach in a wealthy area. I have almost 70% of my students on a free and reduced lunch (including those photographed). As a teacher I realize fhat some parents may be able to buy supplies for their students so I provided supplies to many of my students so they wouldn't be left out. The two boys who didn't do their work, weren't from lack if supplies. Both boys were actually from wealthy families who didnt feel like doing it period. By looking at all of the 73 projects you couldn't definitely tell that at least 75% had little to know parent help as that is the environment in which my students live.

  3. Unknown,

    You should really go back and re-read your post. It's a very negative reflection of you. I was at the math fair and these kids were the most prepared group of kids that I have ever seen. They each had a 2-5 minute presentation that they spoke to you as you viewed their projects. It was nothing short of amazing. Wealth does not replace preparedness. The projects were great because they had practiced and rehearsed for many days. Mr. Nesloney is doing exceptional things with his students and set the bar at a very high level. Crappy work is not an option. We should all take a page from that book.

    As far as the parents helping...who cares?! Why wouldn't we want parents and students to collaborate on a class project? I can only see benefits when that happens. I teach in the same district and we are far from a 'wealthy area'. Our schools have a large majority population on free and reduced lunches. The assumption that wealth equals better projects is totally absurd to me.

    You may need to reconsider the expectations that you are setting for your students. Set that bar high and accept nothing less! You will be amazed at what students are capable of.

  4. Great idea, Todd! Sounds like the students had a blast :)

  5. I am a substitute teacher in Waller ISD and a parent of one of the students that presented at Mr. Nesloney's Math Fair. I can confirm that these students are from rural and low income house holds. The work that Mr. Nesloney inspires from these students is amazing! I absolutely agree with these high standards and am so excited about the opportunities he has given these students. I am also a sub for another school district and have seen the difference in what it is to have the school or district work together to create this learning environment. I am hands down a fan of Waller ISD, and very much for Fields Store Elementary. I will look forward to when my younger child will be able to learn from Mr. Nesloney when she comes into the 5th grade. The possibilities are endless. ~Alicia Lee