Exploring Rates in the Classroom


Exploring Rates in the Classroom
Exploring Rates in the Classroom

The topic of mathematical rates was introduced earlier this week.  Personally, I tend to find this unit enjoyable as there are many opportunities to connect the topic outside of the classroom.  To introduce the topic my classes go home and find examples of rates in their kitchen’s pantry.  The next day the class shares out what they found. This usually leads to an in-depth conversation about rates and patterns.  After our conversation I felt as though more examples and experiences were needed.

That evening I found some masking tape in my desk.  I decided to create a race path around the classroom.  The path varied in width and it purposely had a few sharp turns.  A roll of masking tape was used as well as a few proactive comments to the janitorial staff to not pick up the tape overnight.  When students came into the room the next day they saw this:

The raceway
The raceway

When the students walked into the room they were surprised.  A few started to jog around the track and ask questions about the room.  Already I was fairly excited as the students were pumped to see what I was up to.   I explained to the students that we were going to use the track to discuss rates, patterns and measurement.  The class then measured out the track and found that it was 66 feet long.  We had a conversation about how this track could be used to emphasize rates. I then introduced the students to the sheet below.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 7.43.43 AM
Rates Sheet

Students were starting to see the big picture of this activity.  Students then took turns and quickly walked the course.  While they walked I had a few students become referees to make sure that no one stepped outside of the path.  I used an online counter and displayed the results as students quickly walked.  Once all the students completed their route and wrote down their results the class reviewed how patterns can be developed with rates.  Students were able to find the amount of feet traveled per second and then used that information to find how fast they walk one foot.  I was finding that students were trying out different mathematical strategies to find a solution. I gave them opportunities to work with each other to find solutions.  I asked clarifying questions when needed, but for the most part the students were on track. When the class finished this part of the sheet I gave them the second part.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 7.57.21 AM
Converting feet to miles

This portion of the activity was more challenging.  Students were able to find the total amount of seconds, but converting the seconds to minutes was a struggle.  Many students asked how they could convert 12.9 minutes to minutes and seconds.  I was proud to see that students understood that 0.9 doesn’t mean 9 or 90 seconds.   This was a great opportunity to explore the concept of converting decimals to actual minutes.  The class used different calculations and found that 12.5 would actually be 12 minutes and 30 seconds.  As progress was made students started to find a conversion strategy to correctly convert the decimal to seconds.

Photo May 28, 2 52 56 PM
Click for Word template


As a class we shared our results and found patterns and the mean.  This activity worked so well that I used it with a few other classes this week.  I’m finding that students are developing a better conceptual understanding of rates while participating in a learning experience that I hope they don’t forget too quickly.

How do you introduce rates in the classroom?



Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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