## Making change: math students combine problem solving skills with philanthropy this holiday season

By Sissy Courtney

“Long division.”

“Lattice multiplication.”

“Break apart.”

“Estimating.”

Those are just a few math strategies fourth grade students at Valley Ranch Elementary predicted they would use to complete their latest Problem Based Learning (PBL) assignment in Math. This holiday season, the math classes adopted four families in need.

Students planned what to buy for each family based on lists provided of the families’ wants and needs, and local businesses and organizations provided funds for the students to spend on the project. They shopped online to find the stores that had the best deals and checked newspapers for coupons. Then, they went shopping.

“We were able to get all (the four families’) wants and needs, plus a bonus gift card,” said Nadya Gulam.

Through Internet links teachers provided on classroom computers, students did their initial shopping online but went to the stores to purchase items.

“We tried to choose stores that fit the items we needed the best, stores like Target and Wal-Mart that have pretty much everything and then places for clothes to fit (the families’) wants and needs,” fourth grade math teacher Parrish Nolan said while on a shopping trip to Vista Ridge Mall in Lewisville. “Today, we’re going to JC Penney’s, Macy’s, Bath and Body Works, and Justice.”

At Macy’s, the students had a 20-percent-off coupon for their items.

“(The students) went through and found the prices and printed out pictures, so they could go find the exact same outfit or item that they were looking for,” Gulam said. “We divided the money we had by the number of individuals and were able to spend \$87 per person. We thought that would be the fair way since some families had two members and some had five. And then we realized we were going to have to pay what, kids?”

“Tax,” the students said in unison.

“Since they have to keep money aside for tax, they calculated the money for that, Gulam said.

“We used calculators,” student Jenell Van Luvan said. She had they had to multiply using a decimal.

“The PBL itself is just amazing, and then to put a project like this together is just fantastic,” Van Luvan said. “There is nothing I want more than for my kids to learn how to problem solve, and to do it and help others at the same time is absolutely wonderful. That’s something we try to instill in our children. Giving back is huge to our family, especially this time of year.”

“I think it’s cool that we get to help people that aren’t as fortunate as us,” Jenell said. “It was fun looking online for the presents. We looked for shoes, pajamas, a board game, candles and other things like that.”

While shopping, students compared prices and quality of items and learned to use the Price Check station in the stores to verify an item’s price. Before paying for items, they estimated how much the item would cost and how much money they would need to give the cashier.

“We round by either the nearest 10 or 100,” Max MacRae said. “(For rounding money) we would usually round by tens.”

Trey Pearson jumped in to help Max.

“If it’s five or above, you round it up,” Trey said. “If it’s four or below, you round it down.”

“Five or more, you raise the score; five or less, you let it rest,” their teacher, Ms. Gulam said.

Their end product will be a SmartBoard presentation of the budget for each person in the family along with how much they spent and what they purchased with pictures of the items inserted into the SmartBoard presentation.

“I think it’s really fun for a kid to learn to budget and use a spread sheet,” said fourth grader Kevin Ly. “And it’s good and kind to help others.”

The families were referred by Irving Bible Church. Donors for the project were Gold’s Gym in Valley Ranch, Las Colinas Federal Credit Union, Irving Chamber of Commerce, Ray Gulam with Mortgages USA, and Volunteers of America.