Using an idea borrowed from Peterson Middle School’s Mary Fries, Kathryn Hughes Elementary School’s Jenni Erickson found a way to better engage her students, while teaching them math and having fun in the process.
Erickson, a third grade teacher and one-time teaching assistant for Fries, decided she would give her students an end of the year burrito party, pending they completed their homework. Only, there was a catch: the size of the burrito would be determined by the number of times students brought their completed reading log and homework to class.
“First, [the burrito] was meant to motivate the kids to actually get in the habit of reading,” she said. “For me, the homework isn’t about them learning new content, but it’s the habit of reading and the habit of responsibility that they’re going to need in their upper grades.”
According to Erickson’s students, each of them was expected to complete 45 minutes of homework every night, consisting of a minimum of 20 minutes of reading and 25 minutes of subjects like writing, spelling and math, which was an important component in determining the length of the burrito.
“We had to do our homework every day and if we did it we got tallies,” said Amaya Flores, 8. “If we got three consecutive days we got to add an inch.”
After three consecutive days of completing homework, the value of the tally marks would also change and students would then recalculate the size of their burrito. By the end of the year, Erickson’s students had accumulated 44 tally marks worth eight inches each for a total of 30 feet.
“I don’t do any of the math,” Erickson said. “That’s why it’s so fun. They’re invested in it and they really have to figure it out … What I saw more this year than in years past is not only were they using their math strategies but they were using estimation which is key. When they were trying to divide it wasn’t even and they had remainders, which is past where they’re at right now in terms of formula math but they absolutely knew how to do it when they started estimating. It was really neat.”
After the students figured out it would take 15 desks to hold the length of their burrito, they broke down into four groups, with each responsible for completing one task–first the tortillas, then beans followed by cheese and finally rice. The entire class then worked together to roll their creation and anxiously awaited their slice.
“It feels awesome,” said Nihar Jain, 8. “We worked hard and we get a reward for working hard.”
Erickson said she has been doing the burrito party for three years and each year the burrito grows–from 18 feet, to last year’s 21 feet, to this year’s 30 foot burrito.
“My biggest concern was that I didn’t want anybody to be shamed for not having their homework and it just hasn’t ever happened. If they notice somebody struggling they’ll actually meet before school and they’ll say, ‘do you have your reading log filled out,’ and they help each other. They want to be successful. They’re great kids too.”