Given that it is late in October, I wanted to do something Halloween-related in Math, but I didn’t want to do worksheets with ghosts and witches. Teaching grade 7 & 8 means that I have to deal with the cool factor. My students are quick to check out if they think the work is too “babyish”.

Luckily, I have been experimenting with Dan Meyer’s 3-Act Math once a week, so a real-world problem based on Zombies would work well. I know that the emergency preparedness people love the zombie scenario because it models the spread of the infectious diseases quite well. Also, because zombies are in the zeitgeist, their inclusion makes the exercise more fun and engaging.

I went to the web to try and find a zombie math activity that would be appropriate for a grade 7 and 8 math class. I found A LOT of zombie activities meant for the high school audience, centered around logarithms and exponential growth. But that is a little too advanced for what my muffins can do.

Then I found this meme on the internet and found my great inspiration. I would set my scenario in our school. I was able to grab a few images from this video from Mash Up Math

I setup my Pear Deck and showed it to my students. When we do the 3-act math, I also have students incorporate a bit of the Thinking Classroom from Peter Liljedahl. There are randomly placed into groups of three, with one marker. One student takes on the role of thinker, one becomes the recorder and the final student is the calculator. All work is done on flip chart paper hung around the room. Every 10 minutes or so, student roles changes.

The results were more than I’d hoped for.

All students went immediately to the t-chart and started to power through the pattern. Our school, with 720 students, was done for between the 10th and 11th hour. Ottawa, our city went in the hour. Canada didn’t last much longer, falling to the zombie hordes by the hour. Some groups went as far as determine humanity had hours based on this pattern.

Many students started to try and figure out the pattern rule. Some students recognized there was an exponent involved, but couldn’t put their fingers on it. A few students recognized this was a variation on the penny problem we had done a few sessions before. One or two got (or remembered) the pattern rule of 2^{n-1}.

But what was more interesting was the engagement I saw from my students. Several took it to the planet. (33 hours) One figured out to the exact second how long we had as a species. Several others started to ask about the effect people fighting back would have on the spread of zombies. But most amazing was when one young woman, who self-describes her relationship with math as “not good”, asked if her group could figure out how long the US would have under this pattern rule, for fun. For fun.

I teared up.

If you want to grab a copy of the Pear Deck, please feel free to do so here.