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…