There is one thing that never seems to fail…

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This is going to be a short blog post, but it comes with a request.

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I was reminded today that there is nothing quite as powerful the department of meaningful student engagement as allowing students to set things on fire.


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But I’m a science teacher these next two weeks and come fall, I’m a math teacher again. This begs the question: What opportunities are there to allow students to set things on fire meaningfully in a math classroom? (Think Geometry or Algebra II)


I need ideas people! Let me know what you got!


8 thoughts on “There is one thing that never seems to fail…

  1. I do an activity in algebra 2 when studying logarithms and Newton’s law of cooling. I don’t have access or creativity to integrating “burning”, but I will use hot/boiling water along with TI-Nspire, temperature probes, and hot chocolate. You could have the students warm the water up w/ your requested “fire”.
    Just a thought.

    • For sure, cooling is nice because it’s predictable. And we could vary he amount the flame is under the water source. Different starting temperatures and what does that do to the temp-time graph for the five minutes following the removal of the heat source. But you’re right. The fire is only there because we need to heat the water. Any heat source would do.

  2. K, brainstorming here, thinking outside the matchbox as it were. What about something with model rockets? Might be difficult to give each student a turn but, it is one heck of a spectator sport.

    • I think if I went with rockets, our physics teacher would have an issue, since he uses those as one of his flagship projects.

      Although that doesn’t mean we couldn’t combine the projects, do some cross-curricular stuff using the same project, one angle mathematically and one angle scientifically.

  3. Oooh, model rockets are a good idea! My mind immediately went to projectiles (fire arrows?), but that reeks of danger. I would imagine that the rate of burning of certain substances could be expressed mathematically… You could have students observe several burns, timing them, and then fit an equation to the data.

  4. What type of materials would you be thinking of? I’ve done a candle problem before, but the candles use take four hours to burn out.

    Interesting thing about that problem is that it helps to break the students of their idea that everything is linear. The change in candle height slows as the candle gets shorter.

  5. I was thinking of the inverse square variation. What if you have identical soda cans with thermometers in them at various distances from a heat source (fire)? Then students can create a model for the situation and estimate the temperature gain of a soda can based on its distance from the heat source.

    Just thinking.

    • You know what I found out? It is really tricky to get things to burn predictably. They crack and break and fall off the stand. They don’t light or quit burning in the middle. It seems like that would make it hard to use the burning items as sources of usable data. We might not run enough trials to achieve consistency. Maybe not.

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