When a student writes “Love Math” on her fingers during a math lesson, it’s noteworthy and worth celebrating.  My colleague, Dave Sladkey shared a blog post with me by Paul Bogush about a Chopped lesson plan based on the tv show on the Food Network.  I tried it with an Algebra 1 lesson and loved the student engagement, math conversations and creativity that I saw.

I began the lesson by showing the first 4 minutes of an episode of Chopped.  Students were hooked.  This video clip introduced the 4 contestants and the rules of the challenge.  Contestants are given a mystery basket of ingredients which they have to use to create a dish in a given amount of time.  One of the contestants had tattooed “Cook Well” on his fingers which inspired my student’s temporary tattoo.  For my lesson, students had to create a video (using Flip Videos) to graph and compare quadratic, linear and exponential functions, with the given vocabulary and the following ingredients:  paper clips, rubber bands, blocks and a cup.  As soon I gave the directions students got right to work.  They had 30 min. until the end of the period.

This lesson was easy to facilitate because I answered every question based on the show.  The most frequently asked question was if students could use other materials (markers, tape etc.) besides the given ingredients.  The clip we watched explained that contestants got access to the pantry and fridge, so my students did too.  Other objects they used were markers to write on their desks, graph paper, tape, pens and pencils.  Students asked if they had to use all of the paper clips, blocks etc.  I responded, “Is a chef allowed to measure their ingredients?”

I observed some great things while students were working.  The diverse use of the objects impressed me and made me think about the limitations I impose on students by expecting them to do things the way I demonstrate them.  Students were asking each other math questions and teaching each other concepts along the way. They were engaged for the full 30 min. activity and excited about their end product.  I tried this lesson for two different classes and observed that between those two classes only one student asked me if this was for a grade.  I love that the lesson was engaging enough that students were willing to put a lot of effort in without a grade being the motivating factor.  Students were deepening their understanding of current concepts, demonstrating knowledge and collaborating all at the same time.

There were definitely some things to improve upon.  Every group had at least one math error in their
video which surprised me.  I was glad that I could catch those mistakes and address them before the unit test.  Some groups ran out of time making their videos.  Some of the groups struggled to use each ingredient in a meaningful way and other groups left out the required math vocabulary.  Next time, I’m going to find some incentives for creating a complete, polished video.  On Chopped, contestants are judged on presentation, taste and creativity.  I think I can swap math for taste to judge the quality of the end product.  I can't wait to try this lesson again.