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January 31, 2013 The Valentine Box Measures Up By Genia Connell
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    Is there any more time-honored tradition in an elementary school than handing out valentines to your classmates? Who doesn’t remember the excitement of passing out all those little envelopes, not to mention the painstaking care taken in choosing the perfect Valentine's Day card for each and every classmate? Today, kids still love the tradition of passing out their cards, and I’m more than happy to channel excitement and enthusiasm into a fun and educational project.

    By 3rd grade, my students are already valentine veterans. With the help of their teachers, they have made at least three valentine containers to hold cards and candy bestowed upon them by classmates. When they reach my room, however, they discover that their valentine box isn’t going to be done at school: it’s become a fun at-home project that requires math and critical-thinking skills.


    Getting Started: The Excitement Builds

    About two weeks before Valentine’s Day, I introduce this project to my class, telling them that they will be making a valentine box at home that will be brought to school to hold all of their valentines. My students always get very excited when I tell them that they can be as creative as they like and design their box any way they want, as long as they follow a few simple rules. Of course, with the mention of the word “rules,” the cheers subside while they take in the directions.


    The Few Simple Rules: Where Math Comes Into Play

    The class listens quietly as I tell them that the box needs to fit certain size requirements. The box must have:

    • a height, width, and depth no greater than 12"
    • an opening that measures no smaller than 5" x 2"
    • a design that allows it to be easily carried — they should not need help with it

    Additionally, students are provided with a centimeter grid paper to be used in planning their project. They draw a scaled picture that shows all their measurements for length, width, and height and also lists all the materials they used.

    Click the image above to download a blank grid.


    The Note: Everything They Need to Know

    A comprehensive page of directions goes home with the students, which includes all the information we discussed in our class meeting. We read through the directions together. Discussion invariably starts as soon as the first person sees the word “winners.”

    Click the image above to download the customizable direction sheet.


    The Motivating Factor: Prizes!

    Once students have listened to the project requirements, I tell them awards will be given on the day their box is due for the best box from six different categories:

    • Most Creative

    • Prettiest

    • Neatest Work

    • Coolest Box

    • Most "Valentiney"

    • Best Box Overall

    Using chart paper, we discuss what attributes a winning box in each category might have.

    Next, I suggest that when they design their box, they may want to have a certain category in mind in which they would like to win. The thought of winning an award is very motivating to my students. However, more important to me, they are setting a goal, then planning and working backwards to develop a model that will meet the criteria we established earlier on the chart paper: definitely a higher-level thinking skill for a 3rd grader. 


    I also explain that THEY will be deciding whose box is named the best in each category through a vote. Students are relieved to learn they may vote for themselves. However, they may not vote for anyone, including themselves, more than once. 


    The Big Unveil: Valentine's Day!

    Excitement pervades the entire room the morning the boxes are due. The children are buzzing with joy as they unwrap their creations for the world to see. My boys and girls are always very complimentary of each other’s boxes — probably because they know how much work goes into them! The number one question of the morning of course is always, When do we vote?


    The Vote: Using Reasoning Skills

    Each box is given a random number and children get a ballot. They spend a great deal of time circling the tables and considering each box carefully before voting, knowing that they need to provide a reason why they selected each box for that particular category. Requiring students to supply a reason also stops students from voting for their friends "just because."

    Click the image above to download a customizable ballot.


    The winner of each category receives a certificate that I created in Print Shop and everyone gets a valentine pencil and eraser for their efforts. I only use one certificate, simply changing the category heading and recipient’s name for each.

    I have been making these boxes with my class for over ten years, and I am always delighted by how gracious everyone is toward the winners. 



    The Follow-Up

    Before students pass out their cards, I give each one a rubric, and they pull out rulers and measure their boxes to verify that they have met the project requirements. In 3rd grade we do this together, step-by-step. Older students are more likely to be able to measure independently. Experience has taught me to have students measure after the vote when they have fewer distractions.

    Click the image above to download a customizable rubric.

    You can extend the project further by having students:

    • Calculate the area of each side
    • Determine the volume/capacity of their box
    • Compile and calculate the total time they took to complete the project
    • Graph the number of votes the winner received in each category using a scaled bar graph
    • Write a persuasive paragraph describing why their box deserves to win ___ category
    • Write a narrative focusing on one small moment experienced during this project

    How do you put an educational twist on Valentine's Day or any other upcoming holidays? I would love to hear what other teachers are doing in their classrooms this time of year. 




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