Sometimes the biggest challenge in teaching Math is instilling a desire to work on complicated problems. Many students today grew up with the idea that fun things are those that have instant gratification rewards- e.g. Video Games. Math may hold this type of reward for the instructor but it is not always evident in the student. This year I have tried to create a few projects that will have meaning beyond the immediate essential standard we are covering, attempting to bridge the gap between learning and real life. One thing that my students lack is a long term goal, they dream of the future but many of those dreams are along the lines of “I want to play in the NBA” or “I want to be a millionaire” and have no real plan or focus to get there.
I asked a question in class one day about how many students thought they wanted to attend college after high school. Except a handful of students, all indicated that they thought college was a goal they had. At one point in my career I would have left the conversation at that, satisfied that my students had a good goal and future plan. Now, I know better. I followed that question up with where do you want to go to college and the handful now turned to students who actually had an idea of where they wanted to further their education. So I decided to tweak an old project so I could give my students the opportunity to explore colleges.
I teach 8th grade Algebra. One project I always do is a Line Art poster where students would choose a picture and convert it into a linear picture. This year I took it one step further, which also meant I had to increase the class time spent on it. This year their picture had to taken from a college they would like to attend. It could be their logo or mascot. I had students print out the original picture and sketch a draft of it (I did this because the pictures were normally small). They then converted it into a linear art picture. Students were asked to make 2 copies of the linear art, one to use now and one we will use in a few weeks. Students then overlayed a Cartesian Plane on their linear art and plotted points on their picture. Although this initial process can be used in grades as low as 5th, I discovered that many of my students were still transposing the X and Y axis so this was a good practice for them to master that skill.
They were asked to write a brief paragraph describing what college they chose, where it was located, what the college is known for, what they wanted to study there and why they chose that college. As you can see from the picture, this is the part that received the least attention from the students. When we go back to this project they will revise these paragraphs and produce more supporting details. For the initial process I wanted my students to create a vision for themselves, now that they have one and have had some time for that seed to grow I will ask them to look at that vision with more depth.
In another week we will look at these posters again. We are covering slope and writing equations in slope-intercept and standard forms. Students will then use their second line picture to write the equations (slope-intercept) of 20 of the lines they used to create it. They will then write those equations in standard form. To finalize the project they will also revise their paragraph to include more supporting details.
Currently the posters are displayed in the hall over their lockers, a constant reminder of what they chose for their vision of the future. So far I am pleased with the conversations that have happened as a result of this project, students are starting to change their outlook on classes and life. They are starting to think about what will prepare them for their new realistic dream versus the superficial one. They are starting to accept the struggle of a complicated problem and have the confidence that they can find an answer. Overall I am very pleased with this project and its place in my curriculum. I will follow up on this blog when we finalize our visions of the future.