My junior level math classes have begun working on a project called Buying a Car. For the past few classes we’ve been problem solving using spreadsheets. They’ve been working in teams, using Google spreadsheets to solve problems like this and this (which I adapted from our *Core-Plus Mathematics* text). My teaching colleague and I decided to jump into this spreadsheet mini-unit before our students had to turn in their laptops for the year. (We are a one-to-one school.)

Here are some pictures of my students hard at work.

Some things I heard as the students were working:

- Oh, so the bank pays for the car and then you pay the bank. I get it now!
- How much does gas cost right now?
- Where’s the best place to get the loan from? What’s the lowest interest rate we can get?
- Are we going to buy that truck? What’s the gas mileage on it?
- How do we figure out the payment? What did we do before?
- So we have to add the interest and then subtract the payment.
- We can cut back on the money for entertainment. We can be cheap. There’s only two of us, we don’t need that much food. It’s not like we’re feeding any children.
- How do we determine how much for a downpayment?
- Can we afford a monthly payment of $875?

Here’s what I really like about this assessment (having never done it before):

- There is a high degree of choice.
- There isn’t a definitive solution.
- Students have to make (and state) some assumptions in order to solve the problem.
- They have to think about lots of things that go into a household budget and buying a car.
- Students working together and helping each other to succeed.

What I’m not so sure about:

- The quality of their results.
- If they’ll really apply what they’ve learned during the past 4 classes learning about spreadsheets.
- How much understanding they’ll walk away with.

It will be interesting to see what they produce as a result.