George Bott
  This whole learning activity is a multi-week, stand-alone project involving multiple and varied skills.

  Critical thinking, Job skills, Mathematics, Problem solving, Spelling

Learner Level:
  From 5th to 12th grade. Math required is addition and subtraction of mixed numbers. Learners must be able to make straight lines and measurements using a ruler (to 32nds of an inch).

Time Frame:
  Several class sessions

Learner Grouping:
  Individual, Small group, Whole class, Self-directed student work

  My class is in an office called "WorkForce NetWork." This class is attended by four or five students and meets four hours a day for five mornings a week. Learners are a combination of those who attend voluntarily through Fresh Start and those for whom attendance is required in order to keep their welfare benefits. Attendance is still sporadic. The classroom is equipped with tables rather than individual desks.



Type of Program:

Student Population Served:
  Select population

Sign making (for window of an office or business)

Learners are asked to design and lay out a sign and figure out how to transfer it to a window using letters/numbers purchased from a store. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Learners will design a sign for a window with an unambiguous message that is informative, easily read from an appropriate distance, and well spaced on the window so that the sign will appear to have been done by a professional.

Supporting objectives are:

  • The learner will demonstrate how to draw straight lines on paper.
  • The learner will demonstrate how to draw parallel lines.
  • The learner will measure the width of the letters and numbers to be used to the accuracy of 1/32 of an inch.
  • The learner will add and subtract mixed numbers in order to accurately determine the horizontal spacing of the letters and/or numbers on the lines and the vertical spacing of the lines on the window.
  • Learners will demonstrate understanding of the process by writing a report of what they have done and learned.

Primary Skill:
Use math to solve problems and communicate

Secondary Skills:
Plan, Convey ideas in writing

Learner Needs & Goals:
Most of my adult learners have difficulty expressing their thoughts concisely and unambiguously. They also have difficulty with planning a project and carrying it through to the end. Some come to class in the morning and ask, "What should I do today?" Learners need to have an ability to communicate unambiguously, to plan, to follow instructions, to work accurately and neatly, and to think analytically. This activity gave them the opportunity use all these needed skills to plan how they would accomplish a task and to experience the continuity of carrying out a long-term project on their own.

Learning Activity Description:
Small businesses often open "on a shoestring" without funds for a sign identifying their place of business. Most have a window that could be used as a place to display the name of the business and other information necessary for customers to know. We have a sign on the window of our office door that I could point to as an example of what I wanted my adult learners to do. I had made and installed our sign and decided that planning out a sign for a window would make a good work-related project for my learners.

Understanding the Problem
I did not want the learners to copy our sign, so I assigned each learner working individually to design a sign for the "RIDE-EM-HARD HORSE FARM" with a telephone number and hours of operation. Each learner is to decide what, if any, additional information to include in designing the sign for the window. The size of the window for which the sign is to be designed should be given to the learners. We used 22 inches by 27 inches. Specify for the learners which dimension lies vertically and which lies horizontally. Show the learners the stick-on letters and numbers that would be used to make the sign for the window. 2-inch and 1-1/2 inch letters can be read easily from reasonable distances. You may want to limit their options to one size or the other, or you may opt to provide both and let them choose.

Each learner will be working independently with your help as needed. The following are the directions for the learners with asides to the instructor given in italics. Learners will need varying amounts of help with each step.

Designing a Possible Solution

  1. Lay out ideas for your message design (not to scale) on scrap paper using your choice of line spacing.

    Applying Math Concepts to Check the Feasibility of the Design

  2. Measure the total height of the message including letter/number heights and spaces between lines and from top and bottom edges of the window. If the message does not fit the window, redesign the message until it does fit. (Don't permit learners to solve their problem by use of smaller letters/numbers unless the result can be read easily from a reasonable distance). When the sign fits the window in the vertical direction, go to the next step.

  3. Using the letters/numbers purchased from the store, measure the width of each letter/number used in the window message, measured accurately to the nearest 32nd of an inch. (I would insist that the learners make these width measurements. I found that most of my learners did not know how to do this.)

  4. Decide how much space to leave between letters/numbers and also between words.

  5. Calculate the width of each line by adding letter/number widths and space allowances between letters/numbers and between words. Compare line width with window width. If the line does not fit, redesign the line or the whole message as required and repeat from step 2. If the line fits (with suitable spaces between ends of line and edge of window), continue to step 6.

    Verifying the Design Application

  6. Using a piece of paper that is window sized or larger, outline an area the given size of the window. Using the ruler, determine the correct vertical spacing of the top and bottom of each row of letters. Draw light, straight, horizontal lines across the width of the paper to represent the top and bottom of each line. Choose pencils with sharp points and use very light pressure when drawing lines. Check that the vertical positions of the lines are spaced correctly. (This step may take learners several tries. Light, fine lines are more accurate and easier to erase than heavy lines and also will be less obtrusive when observing the finished layout for aesthetic appeal.)

  7. For each line of letters in the window message, subtract line length from window width and divide the result by 2. This gives the distance from the edge of the window to the leading edge of the first letter/number in the line. Carefully lay out the placing of the letters and the spaces for each line using the letter widths and spaces decided on in step 4. These measurements must be done very accurately (to a 32nd of an inch) in order for the line of the message to end up properly centered on the window. In longhand draw/write in each place the letter/number or space that goes there. This provides a good visual quality control on the layout. Examine your layout for accuracy and aesthetic appeal.

  8. Done? Great! Now tell how you plan to get the self-stick letters/numbers onto their proper places on the window. Does it make any difference which side of the letters/numbers has the adhesive? Have learners think about this and describe what difference this makes. Have them tell how they would get the letters/numbers on the window in each case.

  9. Now sit back and admire your work! You have just solved a practical, real world problem.

    Reporting the Process

  10. Write a report describing the sign making, and the procedure for getting the sign onto the window. This should include an explanation of how to get it on the window depending on which side of the letters/numbers has the adhesive.

Materials and Resources:
The following materials are required:
  • window-sized or larger paper for each learner (probably flip-chart paper will do, but don't cut it to window size until the sign is done)
  • accurate 12-inch rulers with hairline divisions to 1/32nd of an inch
  • sharp pencils
  • good quality erasers
  • a complete set of 2" and/or 1-1/2"stick-on letters and numbers acquired from a store such as OFFICE DEPOT. These letters are required for width measurements even though you may never use them on a window. If an OFFICE DEPOT type store is not accessible, try to obtain the required numbers and letters from a friendly local sign maker.

Assessment of each individual learner is formative. Watch how your learners work, examine their results, and help/re-direct as necessary. Their "professional-looking" finished project is proof that each skill was successfully mastered and accurately completed. The written report indicates whether or not they can explain the process they went through.

I would not change anything. I think it is a good practical problem, and a good learning experience. I have not had an opportunity to see if the learners can transfer the skills learned. I recommend the instructor do this exercise (short of actual installation on a window) before trying the project in class. Most of the learners had difficulty laying out the lines of the sign in the vertical direction, especially if two different letter heights are used (which I would recommend). All of my learners made errors in measuring letter/number widths. None knew how to read the divisions on a ruler or how to measure with it. None knew how to draw a straight line on paper using a ruler when the line length exceeded the ruler length. Few knew how to add/subtract mixed numbers even though we had gone over this in math exercises. One tried to lay out letter/number widths in the vertical direction on the paper rather than in the horizontal direction; it was difficult to get her to understand the difference. None knew how to draw horizontal lines that would be parallel.


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