Math IS Real Life: December 2016 Edition – using Excel to “map” out a plan

It’s the first Wednesday of December (how is that even possible?!) which means it’s time for our monthly linky – Math IS Real Life!! If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!

If you are linking up, please include the below picture to link back to this blog post


 A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by MissMathDork,


Right before Thanksgiving I was asked by a group at school to make a “feel the love” memory quilt for a co-worker who is currently dealing with major medical issues.  A request like this is not exactly something you turn down, and I’ll be honest, while flattering, it’s also quite sobering.  I’ll won’t go into details of the diagnosis… I’ll just say that sometimes life is not fair no matter how nice you are and how much you care for the kids you work with.

Anyway, after saying yes and sending out a staff email asking for my colleagues to help me wrap my friend in our love and memories, the shirts and ideas started flowing in.  As if the number of shirts that were flowing in wasn’t enough, all of her students wanted to contribute as well.  So the teacher working with her students started having them draw their own designs.  When she brought them to me  I knew my t-shirt design had to change.  Originially, I had planned to take all the shirts and make a large, one-sided design and turned my plan into a double sided idea.

The “second” side was the first I designed.  I had 9 shirts given to me by the substitute teacher with various designs doodled on them.  I thought I would be able to trim the 9 shirts into smaller sections but realized quickly that it wasn’t going to happen without destroying art-work. So, I made a 3×3 “window pane” type deisgn with a thick border all around.

I knew that designing this side first would force my hand with some interesting math on the other side – so I turned to Excel to help map things out a bit better. The first side ended up being 78 x 96 – oooh, yes both multiples of 3.  Using this knowledge, I sized Excel to look more like grid paper and made had 3 cell represent 3 inches.  Below is what my window pane side looks like.


Then, I made another section of Excel to be the same dimensions with the same size frame.


I started playing with the merge and border features to get a feel for what the other side might look like.  (Most people choose to draw sketches to design – I find myself using Excel so that I have nice, crisp guidelines and can draw things to scale.)

The first size I played with eas 12 x 12 because I have a clear 12.5 x 12.5 cutting template and using that to make all the sizes would have made cutting quite simple.  I realized pretty quickly that this size wasn’t going to work out as nicely as I had hoped.


I did play with the idea of 12 x 12 for 4 of the 5 columns with a 18 x 12 column down the middle.  Overall, this would work pretty nicely. Then I remembered I had a few special shirts that had to make it into the quilt that were going to need to be cut smaller than 12 x 12.


I started playing with some other ideas but they each kept leaving a lot of area in the middle.  This one could probably also work, but I wasn’t sure that I had enough shirts in the correct sizes to make it happen.  slide5

Then I took a minute to look at my border.  I realized I had used so much of it on side 1 that I needed to make it a bit thinner on side 2.  Back to the drawing board with ideas.  Below is a 3 inch border instead of a 6 inch border. slide6

I went back to my 12 x 12 idea and it almost fit.  BUT I was back to needing a smaller section for at least 2 shirts AND I wasn’t sure I had enough shirts to fit this size to make this easily happen. slide7

I took some time to play with the shirts a bit more to figure out sizing.  12x 12 worked for most but I needed wider on at least 3 shirts. In addition to this I had 30 shirts that worked nicely at the 12 x 12 or larger size. New plan.  I tried 12 x 18 and that worked nicely for 24 shirts.  I knew I still needed room for at least two 9 x9 shirts, and 3 18 x 12 shirts – so I got a wee bit more creative!

The biggest key to making a blanket (at least for me until I’m ready to branch out!) is to make everything into rectangles when possible.  So, I balanced each side with 9 x 9s and then started working out what the middle would look like.

And, albeit a little strange with the 54 x 3 spots, I mapped this out.  The 54 x 3 will be filled with 2 tie dye shirts that were blank, so they can easily be cut into strips. slide10

And, just to make sure that I calculated everything correctly, I used Excel to do a few quick calculations.  The three horizontal lines are my width measurements and the two vertical lines are my length measurements.  Thankfully, everything added up to 78 and 96.


I’m currently in the process of taking side 1 around to each staff member in the building to get it signed – it’s the perfect accent to all the student pictures, and it helps fill in the awkward white space that I was unable to cut out when I decided to keep those shirts whole.  I’ve also been working on side 2 afterschool in the evenings.  The middle crazy section is currently complete, I just need to do the “easier” 12 x 18 pieces.  I hope to complete that by this weekend so we can visit our dear friend early next week after school.  I’m excited to see her beautful smile – it’s surely been missed at school!


  Don’t forget to check out the other MIRL posts below!  Check back over the next few days – more will be added!!

Categories: #mirl, computation and estimation, geometry and measurement, hands-on math, math is real life, and mathematical reasoning.

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