Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 65: Projects and Projections

Several students thought that a pocket pack of tissues would hold 170 tissues.  We have some work to do with estimation.  The students, however, are VERY receptive to it and want to do more, so I count that as a plus!

I'm working more on providing students with choices of what they wish to work on.  So far, I've found that when given the choice between doing an assignment or not, they often choose not.  But if I give a choice of three or four, they will pick and work on something fairly well.

In an effort to get students to show me what they know beyond the confines of a test, I'm starting to flip through Hands-On Math Projects with Real-Life Applications by Judith and Gary Muschla.  It's a book that I've had for years, book marking several projects, but haven't done many.  Eventually, I'd like to be able to hand the book to a student and say "Pick one!"  But after my recent experience with projects, I'm going to have to ease into that.

So I'm starting off with two that allow students to demonstrate knowledge and creatively express it.  For the first set, students can either design a math poster, or design a math lesson.  I told that they can earn extra points for picking topics that have not been covered yet.  In the future, I think I'll require them to do topics that we haven't covered.

Halfway through the class, I realized the mistake I made.  I should have assigned topics, at least for the first project.  I ended up spending a large portion of my time helping students narrow down topics to something poster-worthy, or making sure they weren't making another version of the posters that were already on my wall.

At the same time, I'm not sure that I should care.  I would LOVE for them to produce something original and creative, but I think it's unrealistic to expect that of everyone right off the bat, especially when they are unaccustomed to demonstrating knowledge in a non-traditional way.  Some of the students/groups came up with some interesting ideas while others had to be encouraged to do something more than "how to multiply."

I think this first one will be graded within the rubric I gave them, but generously.  I want to foster a sense of freedom of expression and I'll hope that it will expand outward from there, getting students to produce better and better things as the year goes on.

The room is more chaotic than I am comfortable with.  It makes my skin crawl slightly even though I know it's a part of the process.  I want the kids to be sitting in their desks, quietly working on their projects, quietly discussion strategy or style, but that's not them.  They are loud and boisterous, like I am.

Sometimes, this is what learning looks like.  I need to do a better job of letting go of the reins while still making sure that students are doing what they need to.

This job is hard...

Plus, I've come to the scary and inevitable conclusion that I'm doing too much too soon without sufficient planning.

Seriously, I have no idea what I'm doing.

I thought I was casting multiple nets in the hopes that I would catch something, but it's starting to feel like I'm chumming and taking a nap while the fish eat...


  1. I have had similar experiences, for sure. What I've found is that making a model that would earn a full score on the rubric helps some students better understand what level of effort and attention to detail is expected. Keyword: some. Fully half of my students will completely miss some aspect of the rubric. Earlier this year, they missed the importance of putting their names on their journals despite the fact it was clearly listed on the rubric, shown on the model, and is an expectation even in elementary school. I believe it won't get better until students are consistently evaluated on projects using rubrics, and even then it won't get better unless the students want to earn top scores.

    I wish I knew the source of this idea, but I've seen a blogger who sends home a rubric for the parent and child to score the project together before turning the project in. The family's grade has to be turned in along with the project. At a minimum, that requires that the parent and child interact with the rubric instead of relying solely on memory for what is expected. In the best case, revisions are made when necessary to improve the project. For in class projects, consider putting the kids with partners so they can peer assess and revise before a final grade. Getting kids to revise is hard. I've noticed that my students are more and more resistant to revision and I attribute it in part to how little writing they have been made to do under our old curriculum.

    I'm pretty much OK with organized chaos- chatter, moving furniture, sprawling on the floor, etc. Just don't throw things in my classroom and we're golden. I do feel like other people judge the noise, though, as a sign that I'm not in control. Several colleagues have classrooms so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

    1. I absolutely LOVE the idea of sending the rubric home! I will certainly be doing that!

      I don't mind the chaos, with the exception that it makes it hard for me to know who is on task, but I manage. Last year, you could hear a pin drop in my class. I don't mind the chaos, but I want to be able to make it silent when I need it.

    2. Do you have a bell? One of the $6 tap bells totally changed my classroom! I only ring it once, and then wait. It works wonders!

  2. Justin

    Your comment about posters already on the wall made me think of a photography teacher I worked with. When presenting a new has, she would show photos that other students had taken right up front. The class would have these on the walls as guides and the class would critique these before moving on to their own. This way the students had a model in front of them of a reasonable goal for themselves. This might be a useful strategy for you since you already have student work displayed.

    1. I think that's fantastic! I think it's a great idea to get kids critiquing other work so that they can identify the strengths and weaknesses. If they are doing it for work of people they don't know, even better because it's safe.

      Thank you!

  3. I was going to make the same suggestions as Kathryn and mrdardy did in their comments. So instead I'll just say: I second that!


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