Sunday, August 24, 2008

First Day of School

School started this week. Thursday was a hectic day but everything went smoothly considering the time. This is the first year that we are on a 7 period schedule. We have previously been on a 4 period schedule. Going from 80 to 45 minutes is an adjustment. I really wanted to concentrate on how much can be done in 45 minutes---NOT a lot :).

Fortunately, I meet with two of my Algebra I classes twice. I decided to have my classes not meet back to back to give students and myself a break. Since my class is a company, I am able to establish with the students that the first part of the day is concentrated on training (understanding math concepts) and the second part is completely project work.

I realized the day before school started, I really need to get them understanding a project from the start. Therefore, I quickly made up a project that would take no more than a day or two. Below is the project the students completed this week. Let's first look at the project question:

Tori works at the local McDonald’s on 23rd and Penn. She has been working there for over a year. She believes she is not getting paid correctly. She gets paid $6 an hour, works 40 hours a week and is paid every two weeks. Can you help her understand how to read her check? She wants us to explain the process to her. Be prepared to explain to the class tomorrow.

Students then were given scaffolding questions to think about during class and to continue that evening. The questions were--What factors go into calculating a person’s pay check?; How do you calculate how much a person makes?; Is there anything that is taken out?

As a class we answered the questions by looking at what we knew about the problem and what we needed to know. This will always be the starting point for every project. This was also a great connection to the word problems in math. Students have difficulty processing it because they don't know how to find the true question and then following up with what is given to help answer. By making a T-Chart or a concept map, students can visually see the problem unfold and particularly what they need to do. Students discovered they have resources to go to for help in understanding a paycheck if they don't have a job.

The next day, we reviewed the previous and students were given their next activity to complete the project. The activity: Using the information collected, work in your group to come up with the following:
  • One person who will present
  • Explanation of elements of a paycheck
  • Step by step process on how to verify your paycheck
One class didn't get a chance to present however both groups did a great job helping Tori understand their paycheck. We wrapped up the project dissecting the math concept in the project. Students quickly saw that it was not just adding, subtracting and multiplying but order of operations.

Next week, they will start their first real life project called Fantasy Football. You can check out the details of that project at

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Light Bulb Moment

This past week, I really wanted to at least get the projects for the first two learning units (probability/measures of central tendency & linear/absolute value expressions). I had a quick idea for the statistic unit because I have been wanting to incorporate fantasy football into the classroom since I was introduced to it by a church member.

I finally thought it would be great for the students to have to explain the statistical information involved in the game. This will enable me to gain the attention of my male students off the bat but not last so long I loose my students who are not interested in sports. I meet with my church member on Friday (August 15) and she was bursting with more things the students could do. I was so excited I was saying yes to everything. Now, I realize her thoughts may take longer than I want. I am going to send her an email and see if my simpler idea and some of her thoughts would work well together. The only thing it cost me is a $6 hamburger. I often pay for the lunch of professionals who agree to help me in my classroom. They are never looking for it but I want to give them some type of expression of gratitude for their time.

Although this was an easy project creation idea, thinking of something for expressions was harder. I knew that expressions are an easy concept for students to learn. It is the same as order of operations just with a combination of letters and numbers. I almost was just going to teach and not have a project. Yet, the basis of my classroom and the introduction to every math concept is a project. The students will not see the class as anything different if I switch from project to lecture or activity only.

Finally, it hit me. I want the students to create a project of their own based on one of the standards we have learned in the semester on an interest. This will be a major project and requires me to really get them to be able to good at planning. Expressions can be found in any interest. What better way to get them ready for the semester project than to get them to seeing math in the things they love. This lead to the "Expressions Everywhere Project".

School starts on Thursday of this week. The curriculum website that I have created to house all my projects will be updated frequently. I have another call with Tim this evening to discuss any additional work he and I have completed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Collaborating is the best way

I just got off skype with Tim in Australia. It was a very productive conversation. We talked for over an hour. We only got interrupted twice. He is so awesome. He is a testament that you don't have to experienced PBL to do a project. He has come up with the majority of the scaffolding activities to help the project flow nicely.

Today, we really worked out the meat of the project. We determined the project will be about 12 weeks. Before we actually launch the project question, we are going to have the students check out each other's respective cities. The students will see the location on google map, be introduced to each other through a voicethread and check out facts about each other's city.

The next major part of the project is the weekly activities from start to finish. We even added two other products to the project. The students will create a report to accompany their budget and they will create a video tape a presentation. There were so many details we were able to catch because we discussed it together. When I have created projects on my own, I never had anyone to bounce ideas off of and discovered holes during implementation. I believe this proejct will run really smoothly because we have two eyes on it.

For details on the structure, check out

Monday, August 11, 2008

Updates to International Project

I just made some updates to the international project wiki. I did some searching for links we can use during the project. I also finalized the driving question/statement we will use for the project. Tim's suggestion was perfect and I just added and clarified a few things.

I have a few more things to do for tomorrow so that we really have a full view of what we are doing and just clean up some of the small details. One of the things we have to work on asap is gathering the expert resources. This is the greatest part of a project but also takes some time to coordinate with potential experts' schedule.

Can't wait to continue going tomorrow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Going Into Overdrive

I was scheduled to talk with Tim again today but had to postpone. I didn't get a chance to work on the project like I wanted. I need to update the wiki to include resources we need to use. One of the major components of a PBL is the use of experts and multiple books or sites for information. I want to make sure we both can get experts so that students hear from both countries. We will need to discuss if we will video tape the experts when they visit the class and put it on the Ning so both classes can benefit.

I also have to get going on the first few projects of the school year. School starts in a week. My goal is to have at least one project for each unit of study. For the first time, I will try having PBL being the way to teach a concept rather than using it to see if students understood a concept taught in other fashions. My goal is to have students interested in learning the concepts because they want to answer the client's problem.

There is a lot of work to do....

Thursday, August 7, 2008

International Planning

The planning process is really getting on a roll. I really enjoy working with Tim. For someone who has never done project based learning, he is full of great ideas. I have to admit, this is not working out like I thought it. I anticipated some challenges.

I haven't always been a teacher. When I entered the education world, I was amazed at how little collaboration occurred. In all my previous careers, I was always getting assistance and working with team mates. You are pretty much on your own in this arena and people are not always willing to help you or their help is limited. I am glad to be at a schools where I had some teachers who were willing to work together but it has still been limited. I expected Tim to have a lot of reservations. I was so WRONG! HE IS SO AWESOME! I wished we worked together all the time.

We had a great conversation this week. We went through the pbwiki page that we are using to plan the project. I explained that this form is something I got from Buck Institute for Education but am willing to adapt if he knows something else. He was completely flexible with using the form and I guided him through the parts. He had great suggestions from the very beginning and said their is an assessment form the school uses that we may both be able to incorporate into the project. Like probably many teachers, he thought his technology skills were weak and that I am some guru. I quickly assured him that he is better than most people I know as we went through voicethreads together. We had a lot of laughs that night.

Since our conversation, he has made some changes to the wiki that are absolutely fantastic. He also emailed me with great ideas of what to name the ning. We are so glad we are working on planning this so far before the September 15th launch date. I believe the planning time is the fundamental difference between PBL and regular teaching. It requires a lot of planning but the execution is very easy and the learning is rich and lasting. However, regular teaching doesn't require more than a day or week planning but is really tasking when it is executed and students commonly don't remember anything beyond the test.

Next week, I meet with my team mates to discuss goals and structure of the team. I am hoping we can start discussing doing a joint project again. I have one new team mate that I think will want to jump right on board. She is already into doing alternative teaching methods.

Did I say how excited I am? I AM SO EXCITED!