The problem that was posed to the class was this:
"How much money would you have to make in order to turn a profit as a pumpkin farmer?"
"How many pumpkins would you need to sell in order to make this happen?"
The first response, which was expected, was "I don't know how to do this". My reply was "Of course you don't!" We continued the question by repeating it and allowing the students to think about it. We all agreed that we don't know the answer... YET. So, what information do we need in order to solve this problem (as a test-taking strategy, this is where we would identify important information, underline key terms, etc.)?
From this point on, what happened was incredible. Students asked "How long is the pumpkin season?" This is a perfect question because it gets the students thinking about the fact that this is not a year-round business and a farmer must plan ahead with his/her income in order to sustain an adequate lifestyle for the dry months.
"How much does it cost to operate the pumpkin patch?" This was a great question asked by one of my students because it opened up the conversation of why products cost a certain amount. We talked about buying the land, paying for water, equipment, employees, advertisements, and so much more. By the time we finished with this part of the problem, student buy-in was 100%. Kids were asking questions, answering each other's questions, and truly embedding themselves into the scenario.
"How much are we charging for each pumpkin?" This is a very tricky question because the answer will vary based on the pumpkin patch you visit and the region of the country that you are in. In our case, due to time, we kept the number a nice and easy $5. We also talked about how we could charge based on weight and built in a brief explanation of how density allows a pumpkin farmer the opportunity to make more money (after all, pumpkins are 90% water!).
"How much money do we need to profit for the rest of the year?" BINGO. The kids are so engaged at this point that they are asking unprompted, high-level questions of their own. We talked about middle-income families and what it would take to sustain a moderate lifestyle. I finished this portion of the problem by telling the students that their profit is up to them - just realize that the more money you want, the harder you have to work for it.
We continued worth through the semantics of the problem and came to the conclusion of the class period at the same time as we reached the conclusion of the problem. None of the students had reached a solution, but they were chomping at the bit to come up with a definite answer. Their assignment is to figure out how many pumpkins they would need to sell in order to make the living that they have set out for themselves. As extra credit, the students can create an advertisement that promotes their pumpkin patch and "attracts more customers".
Now isn't this a little bit more engaging than some Released Test Questions!?!?!?