Sunday, January 20, 2013

Styrofoam Cups

Tuesday, I was on my way to BTSA and my subconscious screamed something at me. Find Dan Meyer's Stacking Cup lesson. Seriously, go read his post right now. I hadn't read this post for over a year now and I had to get my lessons ready for the next couple of days as my Algebra classes finished up Pixel Pattern. I was on the road dreading the idea of sitting through a couple hours of BTSA, so I asked Dan if he had the link to his lesson since it wasn't in my bookmarks (that was silly of me) and he came through like a champ! Seriously, check out his post. I'm promoting his blog post more than anything further I have to say here.

First, by all means, spend about $10 and do the lesson with your kiddos. This is one of those 3 Act lessons that just screams "hands-on" activity with your kids. It's tough to capture the overall excitement and energy with a video. If you can't do the "hands on" with your kids or you want to be environmentally friendly, here's my version of the Styrofoam Cup 3 Act lesson: a cheap backup.

It felt most natural to stage this so the cups stacked to the top of the door frame. Even then, I'm not convinced my Act 1 screams the question I'm looking for, "How many cups will stack to the top of the door frame?"

Enough about me and the video, to my classroom with the students. Dan's got a great script for you to follow, so do it! One of my classes was actually able to finish writing their rules before the bell on Friday so we had time to actually stack cups. Check out their rules and predictions for stacking cups to my height.

We started stacking with the lowest number and went from there. The kids went bonkers. Each group thought they were the best, but knew that they all couldn't be correct. When we revisit the lesson this next week, we'll be discussing where groups went wrong in order to learn from those mistakes. Watch Styrofoam Cups - Act 3 Stadel to find out who won. But I recommend you watch the door task also.

Styrofoamed out,


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I had always talked about this problem in the context of finding how how long a bag would have to be to hold X cups (as opposed to how high it would go).

    It is a good point that some activities videos are good for but for others, actually doing it is best.

  2. Was it rough having to break up the lesson? Or did it build anticipation for Act 3?

    1. Yes, it was rough. It was rough especially since we paused the lesson on a Friday. There was definitely a drop in interest come Monday morning, but I did hear the reviving, "Oh, yea!" from a decent number of students. Understandably, it can be difficult for an 8th grader to get excited about much come Monday morning. Let's face it, Monday ends their weekend and brings them back to reality that they're supposed to be a "student".
      Once they revisited their notes, measurements, and woke up, the conversations, conjectures, and calculations improved. Eventually we got some anticipation which definitely turned into some excitement. The payoff (stacking the cups to my height) was a blast and made some kids' Monday.

  3. Hi, Thanks for posting all this. I had about 10 minutes to spare in Friday's class so I played Act 1 and asked the kids to go home and make estimates. They looked up standard door sizes and metal kickboard sizes and one kid went to the store to figure out the size of the cups/lips. When they came in today and wrote all of their estimates on the board, I then showed them the Act 2 info, and asked them to take another look at it. They were so psyched to see how close some were. Then it lead into a great linear relationship discussion particularly about whether the y-int should be the height of the first cup, the lip, cup-lip, zero, and what each of those meant to application and the graph. So rich, even though we didn't have time to do the hands on part. Next time I'll have to make sure to plan for that.

    1. Glad to hear. Sounds like you've got some resourceful students. Way to support them! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hey Mr. Stadel, last year me and a few other TOA colleges attended a 2 day Dan Myer conference on 3 Act lessons. Of course my buddy Tim and I rushed back to our district and started "demoing" these lessons in a lot of secondary classes. All types of classes, Sped, AP, intervention, high/middle schools. This year we stared doing PD with different grade level teams. One of the common responses we receive from teachers is; "my students are functioning too low to be able to do these types of lessons" or "my special ed. students can do this". Even after we explain we have done these lessons in the exact types of classes they are talking about, we still are met with some level of resistance.

    What I have decided to do is to start remaking some of the 3 act lessons. Like for staking cups, do the same thing you did, but start by using the actual size of the cup for the rate of change by inverting every other cup so there is no lip to deal with. Then suggest they use your lesson a few days later

    As a former Sped. Math teacher I totally understand the need to scaffold often. I just wonder what your thoughts would be about going this route.

    1. Hi Felix,

      I think you nailed the idea of scaffolding these types of tasks to best meet the needs of your students.

      I hope I've said that somewhere here on my blog about knowing your students. Let me be specific here when I say know your students. I understand your stance as you know your students will benefit from these tasks, but it's important you scaffold them to best support them in being successful. That all makes sense to me.

      Then there's the idea of "knowing" your students which is the resistance you're running into when teachers say, "My kids can't do these." When I hear that, it makes me cringe, and at the same time, what I hear them saying is actually, "I wish my students could do these tasks."
      Put it back on that teacher, but focus on the 3rd point (the task, skills, or students) and not the teacher. Maybe ask, "What skills would your students need before attempting a task like this?" or "What skills would your students need to be successful with this task?”

      This gives you (or the teacher) something to work on as you (they) prepare for the task. It also doesn't let them take the easy way out by using their students as scapegoats. It places emphasis on the fact that this task is still doable, but they'd like their students to be better prepared for it and they’re taking the appropriate steps to get their students there. Identify what prerequisite skills they'd like their students to have and then go from there. It sounds like you’ve got this. Go get 'em!

    2. Nice. I agree that front loading the skills a bit before applying them in the lesson will help their confidence tremendously and create less of a need for scaffolding.