Sep 9, 2014

Math + Social Justice = The Hunger Games

One of the things Engineer's Playground provides are free, relevant, and unique lesson ideas for teachers who try to integrate STEM with other content areas. It's not a complete lesson (with assessments, grouping strategies, etc) but it's a seed of a lesson for those who can nurture it. If you do use it, please let us know! We'd love to know.

A Seed of a Lesson: Weighing the Odds

The Gist: A great mini-project you can do with kids who like The Hunger Games relates to probability and the Reaping

The Investigation: How could Katniss and Gale have their name in the pool so many times? Is the system unfair to those who are poor?

The Introduction:
In Chapter 1, Katniss discusses Gale’s angry words to Madge. “The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it.” Is this true? What is the true effect of taking a tessera by a boy like Gale? In this activity, we will translate the rules described in the book into a model of that the first few years of Reaping would look like in a simplified district with 4 children: Gale, Katniss, Madge, and Peeta.

An Outline of Activities:
  • Translate the Reaping rules to a process (algorithm). Start first with concrete items like colored beads to visually represent a person's name. This helps students actually see how a person’s probability changes based on the number of tesserae taken in the year. 
  • Organize data concretely in charts: After seeing this in a model, students then use the rules to create a chart with the numbers. 
  • Visualize data patterns in graphs: To appreciate the numbers, they make different graphs (bar graph, stacked graph) to visualize what happens as the person ages.
  • Use of spreadsheets: It gets tedious to keep counting out beads or filling the chart by hand. After a few rounds, students should see that there is a pattern to the number of beads each year (formula development). Show that spreadsheets can help. And then use it to see what happens for more than just a few children in District 12.
What is practiced: 
  • Modeling: Start Simple, Add Complexity: Real systems are often complicated, but being able to simplify them and then add in complexities in a controlled way can give insight into the underlying rules of a system. When we deal with numbers, we forget that the numbers represent real things (or people) in a real world. However, numbers allow us to see the effect that certain rules or patterns have on individual people. 
  • Abstraction: Start Concrete, Find Patterns: Probability is often hard to grasp as a concept. A physical model, like a collection of marbles or gum balls help us see which items are “more likely” to happen. Graphs are another way to visualize not only one year, but across years, without having to buy more materials (as would be needed in a physical model). The ability to create a chart or graph from hand helps the student understand what the computer does with the program.

Possible Extension:
  • Use these methods in traditional problems such as coin flip, roll of a die, craps, the lottery.

Related Standards: Common Core Mathematics Standards

6.RP Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems 
1. Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
3. Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems

7.SP Investigate chance processes and develop, use, and evaluate probability models

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