Project Based Learning

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First of all, I must reiterate that I teach mostly Math AIS all day. I have a little less stress of having to “get through” everything so I can take my time and let students tinker and even, at times, flounder. Also, my classes are small…10 student max. Here is what happened today with my Fundamentals of Algebra students:

I presented my students with a tape measure (the wind-up kind). I posted the following task to the students:

You need to turn the handle of the tape measure at exactly 1 mile per hour. (That is prove it to me that you are indeed moving the handle at exactly 1 mile per hour.)

I took this lesson from Jonathan. He took it a lot further and did angular velocity and all sorts of other cool stuff. My students have been doing ratios, proportions, and unit conversions so I was perfectly happy letting them just find out how to turn the handle in order for the it to be moving at a speed of 1 mile per hour.

My morning classes struggled. For starters, they had NO IDEA how many feet are in a mile (one student volunteered an answer of “12” when asked how many feet are in a mile). More alarmingly is that they had no idea where to start. I had to lead them through this activity way more than I wanted or that I should have had to. I reevaluated and over lunch I made this. I realized that whether I liked it or not, the students need some scaffolding to work more independently. Some of this has to do with the fact that this population is just not very strong at working independently. A lot of it has to do with that when these students are taught unit conversions and proportions nothing is put into context for them (and much of anything else for that matter. This is a constant battle for me. My students are mostly taught an algorithm and then told to apply it. There is very little thinking involved. More on this in another post.

My one period after lunch is my “rough” class. They struggled. Again. However, I do believe that they struggled less than if I had given them the same un-scaffolded assignment that I gave my morning classes.

Note: My AIS periods alternate every other day. I wrote the first part of this after Day One. Here is the recap of today.

I used the scaffolding with my classes again today. It went about the same as last period yesterday. I think they got it better than without the scaffolding, but I just don’t know.  These AIS classes are just so hard to read.  Twelve weeks in and I still am struggling with this.  I think part of the problem is that these students have years and years of experience of faking it.  That is, they have perfected the craft of saying the right things and going through the right motions to make me think that they have it even when I lost them 17 lessons ago.  Over the last eleven years of teaching Algebra 2 with Trigonometry, I learned to identify these students.  I am starting to realize though, that maybe it was not so much that I was good at identifying them as they were better at asking for help.  Perhaps they were even less afraid of admitting they had a question or that they were falling behind.  They didn’t view this as a weakness, but a challenge that they had to overcome. 

I loved the context and ambiguity of this activity. I think it was perfect for an AIS class and it fit into the context of what is currently being taught in their math class right now.  I am not sure how it was received.  I think there was a slight heightened level of curiosity, but I still need to work on inspiring a higher level of work ethic.  Time to find another task for another day…


Trig Scavenger Hunt

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I had been playing around with this idea in my head since last fall, but I didn’t have the time or ambition to get it all put together. Well, the planets aligned and I was able to get everything together last week, and my students LOVED it!

The Set-Up
First, I created 5 different basic web pages and put a different problem from our first trigonometry unit on each one.

Next, I used this QR Code Generator to create a different QR code for each one of these web sites. I printed out these QR codes and posted them in different classrooms around the school. (Note: I consulted teachers, office staff, and the nurse first to make sure that they were okay with students coming into their work areas during the day.)

Following this, I used each of the answers for the problems on the websites as an input, I created an equation that would give one of the classroom numbers with a QR code posted in it. (To be clear, a different “equation” for each problem.)

Finally, I made sure that the library’s iPod’s had a QR reader app installed. We used QR Reader for iPhone which is available for free in Apple’s App Store. It worked very well.

The Implementation
I broke my class up into five groups and gave each of them a sheet of paper with a different 1 of the 5 questions on it. I folded these sheets of paper in half and stapled them so that the groups would all start at the same time. I also gave each group an iPod from the library. I explained that when they solved the problem and then applied the algorithm, the answer would be a room number that would have their next code in it. I told them that they were searching for a QR code in the room and that they needed to use the iPod to scan it. When it was scanned it would open a web page with a new problem on it. The first group that answered all 5 questions and came back to me would be the winner and receive five bonus points. They were eager to get started. We had a count down and they got started. After they solved the first problem they ran out of the room in a cloud of organized chaos. It was awesome.

Student Reactions
The feedback from this activity was fantastic. I heard a student say, “That was SO cool!” Another looked at me on the way out the door and said, “Good work, Davis. That was fun.” Other students exclaimed, “We should review like this all of the time!!”

While I am glad that the students enjoyed it, what really got me excited is the fact that every student was involved. One of my students, Bethany, who has been cashing out lately, perked up and said, “Wow, Davis, you must have put a lot of time into this!” Also, a student who has contributed very minimally during the last 25 weeks, came back frustrated that he couldn’t solve a problem. The ensuing dialogue went something like this:

Dennis: One of the problems didn’t work.
Me: Oh yea, which one?
Dennis: The one where you had to find period.
Me: How did you go about doing it?
Dennis: I used BP=2pi
Me: Show me on the board.

He worked it out correctly on the board. His group was reading algorithm wrong and therefore not finding a room number. I was able to sort this out and reinforce that he was, in fact, doing the correct work. This gave him confidence going on in review and gave me a renewed desire to continue working hard to build his skills.

Things to think about…
Make sure that the locations where the QR Codes are places have a strong wifi signal.

Now that I know the activity was a success (socially, academically, and technologically) next time I will make more than five review problems and therefore more than five groups. Having fewer students per group will put the onus on more students’ shoulders and get even more students involved.

This activity was well worth the effort. I am definitely going to do it again. I may not do it as often as my students want to, but it will definitely reappear. The students were actively engaged in doing mathematics and (dare I even say it) they were having fun! To me, that is what teaching mathematics should be all about!