For a long time I have tried to make a mental note of the real math I do all the time and find ways to package it into lessons for random points in the school year. Again and again I find that other than managing finances, I am constantly needing to plan events, or buy stuff at classroom scale. Like you, I’ve bought classroom quantities of supplies before, whether its notecards or glue or snacks. Each year we have a laser tag party for our AP math kids, an event for 70 people that requires a decent amount of food. Turns out juggling unit prices and headcounts is just as important as talking about polynomials, if not more.

Finally, this desire came to a head earlier in the week when I was extremely tired, hungry, and not in the mood for planning a 90 minute College Algebra lesson. We’d just finished up some topics and taken an assessment so I figured, you know what, let’s take a little break.


Yesterday and today, students were required to plan a party for 50 people. They could work alone or with a partner. They had to plan two scenarios: sourcing all the supplies from a grocery store, and sourcing the food from a restaurant or other vendor. In both cases they had $500 to play with, which makes for a pretty decent party.

I wrote up this outline about an hour before the kids came in:

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These are all seniors and have surely attended and planned many family events where alcohol was part of the preparation, so yes, there’s an item in there where they could consider beer costs. Let’s not ignore that kids are already in the real world, shall we?

Once we went over the directions, it was just…magic. Flipping through grocery ads, planning menus, discussing appropriate quantities, it was awesome. There was a very quiet buzz as they went through everything. I have a couple kids who are always hesitant to start work and they jumped on this. They spent their 90 minutes period figuring out their plan and doing research, and they spent their 50 minute period today wrapping it all up and submitting.

One kid did tell me straight up I couldn’t come to their party. 😭

The best problems can be brilliant in their simplicity. I could see throwing this at the AP kids after the test and getting an equally amazing result.

AuthorJonathan Claydon