Logo for PBL Matters

On September 16, 2020 I will be talking with educators from across the globe thanks to Teresa Dempsey, my friend and fellow PBL Works National Faculty member.

The topic, of course, will be project based learning and the focus will be mathematics. This was popular enough that she broke it out into 2 sessions: K-5 and 6-12.

Overview of PBL PLC September 16, 2020

We will start with how to plan a project. That part is not unique to a specific grade level or content area. I like to break this up into four parts. Since I always push to start with our standards that is the first part of the process. For most of us, our “success” as a teacher hinges on how our students do with the infamous standardized tests. Unfortunately that forces most math teachers to fear the standards. As a pbl teacher we learn to embrace the standards. But we also are strategic in our planning around them.

The other thing that impacts our planning is the evil curriculum pacing guide. Pacing guides assume all students learn at the same pace and all teachers teach at the same pace. Bad assumptions, but ones we are forced to live with in our desire to teach. So, when are each of your standards taught? When are you expected to test those standards. Do you have 3 to 5 weeks you can devote to a set of standards?

Once we have selected some standards to include in our project it is time to ask ourself “how is this standard done in the real world?” Look at the verb in the standard. What are the students expected to “do” with the standard. Are they just regurgitating a fact or are they creating something using the standard? If they are just reciting facts then this may not be a worthy standard to include in a project. If they have to “analyze” or “explore” or “explain” – then you have something where there is some opportunity to build a project around it.

Next it’s time to explore that question of “how is it used?” For math we can often fall back on data analysis or geometric relationships. And those two areas can be done at the earliest grade levels all the way to college mathematics. But what other areas can we explore? This is when looking at a community issue or current event can help you. For example, we are in the midst of a pandemic. Obviously, analyzing data around this event can be done in many ways. But have you thought about using geometry to make masks? Maybe you explore the geometry of faces and how that impacts the best fit for everyone? Is there a “formula” for the amount of material based upon a person’s facial geometry?

The final step in my pbl planning process can be critical to getting students to go deeper in their understanding of a certain standard or concept. How will you make this project “student centered?” How much “voice and choice” will you give your students? This isn’t the teacher’s project – as much as we want it to be our project. This is our student’s project. So how willing are you to let them lead the project path? You need to explore your own fears of “letting go.” The more you are willing to let students push the direction of the project, the higher their interest level.

I’ll wrap up the night with a link to resources I am using as I write books 2 and 3 in the series Project Based Learning in the Math Classroom with my best writer buddy Telannia Norfar. It will be a rapid 60 minutes but I’m hoping you can come (or had the opportunity to come).

In a future post I’ll go deeper on my pbl planning process.

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