Every year, people in the U.S. observe Memorial Day on the last Monday of May. On that day, many schools and offices close, communities hold parades, and people visit cemeteries. The day is devoted to paying tribute to those who have given their lives to all of the wars in which the U.S. was involved.
It is common—and important—to discuss the history and culture around Memorial Day, but wherever there's instruction, there can be math instruction. Students who are drawn to discussions around Memorial Day, perhaps because they have family members in the military, may find this holiday as an entry point into mathematical learning.
Memorial Day Math Activities
Activity 1: Design a Parade Float (Grades 5–9)
Get out those markers, crayons, and pencils! Your community is holding a Memorial Day parade, and they don't just want you in it—they want you to design a float for it.
Have students draw their float. It may help to show them pictures of other parade floats so they have an idea of what typically goes on them. Will they need costumes? A sound system? Balloons? When they're finished drawing their float, have them measure it, too. How wide is it? How tall is it?
Now students should calculate the cost of building the float. Have them think about every material listed and estimate how much of each material they would need. For example:
- Amount of wood?
- Amount of metal?
- Amount of wire and papier-mâché?
- Speakers and generator?
Have students research the cost of each material online and calculate the total cost based on quantity. How much money would they need to ask the school for in order to build the float?
To extend the activity, tell students to imagine that the principal says, “If you can reduce the costs by 10%, I’ll give you the money to buy everything.” How would they reduce the costs by 10%? Feel free to modify the question by having the principal instead list a different requirement, such as to “divide the costs in half” or “reduce the costs by 90%.” Try to match this activity with the lesson and students you’re teaching.
Activity 2: Organize a Museum Exhibit (Grades 4–6)
Many students have been to a museum. But have they ever considered creating one? Tell students they get to run a history museum completely out of their imagination. First, have them invent the museum. Encourage creative names and illustrations!
- Name of Museum (example: Jose’s Museum of Iraq)
- Location of Museum (example: Miami, Florida)
Now suppose their museum is planning a special exhibit for Memorial Day. What objects would they like to display for the exhibit? Have them think about the different kinds of objects that can tell a story and draw a crowd. Would their museum have art in its collection? Photographs? Letters? Military gear?
- What objects will the museum feature for this exhibit? (example: helmets, uniforms, diaries, flags)
- What is your budget for the exhibit? (example: $1 million)
Finally, have students plan how to get their budget back. This requires not just calculating how many tickets they have to sell but also thinking about questions like how to get people to come in the first place. Encourage students to use mathematical language in their explanations.
- How much would you charge per ticket?
- How many tickets would you need to sell to get your money back?
- How will you attract people to come to your exhibit?
It's impossible to have Memorial Day math instruction without connecting it to other subjects. You can use this activity to also discuss whether it even matters if a museum makes a profit and what it means for a company to be nonprofit.
You can pair this with other museum-related activities available on Shaped, such as our round-up of free virtual museum field trips and lessons on teaching math using the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Activity 3: Fireworks Celebration (Grades 4–7)
Some places around the country celebrate Memorial Day with public fireworks. Are you teaching prime factorization? Don’t just show prime factors; make prime fireworks!
As you show students how to draw a factor tree (see our lesson on drawing the prime factorization of 36, for example), have them circle or color each of the final prime numbers with different colors. Now every composite number can become a colorful firework! Have students draw the prime fireworks for different numbers and display them for all to see. Consider assigning large numbers with many prime factors such as 3,600 or 20,000.
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