Friday, October 5, 2007

Using the Newspaper in Algebra I

It’s hard to get students to want to read and even harder to get them to enjoy reading. Two years ago, while teaching at an alternative school here in the Rio Grande Valley, I was introduced to the idea of a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program. We didn’t have a large selection of books, but even if we had, books of any length are intimidating to students who are reading well below grade level. So we also had newspapers delivered through the Newspapers in Education program two days a week. I noticed immediately that even the reluctant readers wanted to read on “newspaper day”, so I started to buy newspapers so we would have them every day. Stories in the paper led to many great discussions and, more importantly, instilled the idea that reading could be fun and interesting.

Last year, when I began teaching 9th graders at my current school, I ran into the same reluctance to read during our DEAR-style class. I again reached into my wallet to provide newspapers every day and saw a big improvement.

I realized as the papers began to pile up (there’s no recycling program at school) that I should maximize the use of these resources—like most things in life, the newspaper is full of practical applications of mathematics. As we approached May and I needed an engaging way to review for end-of-year exams, I turned to the newspaper:
  • Mean, median and mode – Use the weather page and find the mean, median and mode of high temperatures for the cities listed on the regional map.
  • Using formulas – Convert the day’s high temperature in Fahrenheit to Celsius using the formula C = (5/9)(F - 32).
  • Inequalities – To remind you which sign means less than and greater than, find the best cars possible for <> 100,000 miles.
  • Interpreting tables and graphs – Find any informational graph or table and write an appropriate word problem that would require a student to use the information in the graph to answer the question.
  • Writing functions – Look up prices for jeans and for shirts you want. Write a function for the total cost C for buying j jeans and s shirts.
  • Solving a word problem – Find a help wanted ad that includes a yearly salary, and figure out how much per month someone would make in that position after taxes.
We couldn’t cover everything on the exam, but as a supplement to other reviews, this helped students a lot and they enjoyed using the paper to help in class.

This year I have used the newspaper to help start our Fantasy Football and Mathematics project and to post examples from the paper on a “Math in the Real World” bulletin board. Two weeks ago we used the paper to provide real-life examples of rate, ratio and proportion problems. The example activity below refers to sections of my local paper that appear daily, so that it didn’t matter which day’s paper they used as long as they had all the sections needed. We had discussed a problem about rent-to-own businesses and how they take advantage of low-income communities as a real-life example of a rate problem, and I put a similar problem on the weekly quiz (also included below).

This summer I went to a Newspapers in Education training and received free papers sponsored by my local newspaper just for attending, which saved me hundreds of dollars this year. To get newspapers for your classroom, contact the education coordinator at your local paper. Even if you can’t get a sponsor, the price of ordering through the newspaper is a fraction of the newsstand price. For more information on the NIE program, visit their website.

Stay tuned for more ideas for integrating the newspaper into Algebra 1!