PBL–California’s Drought

I’m participating in a three-year program about the STEM disciplines and PBL’s (which I wrote about here).  As part of this program I had to write and implement a PBL. I started out working with a partner, and we she wrote a PBL for our grade 8 math curriculum.  Our district decided to pull in an Integrated Math Program (IMP) unit called The a Overland Trail to take the place of most of the last three  modules of our Eureka Math curriculum, and as our her PBL is meant to replace the last module, I didn’t think I would get to it (or it would be overkill). We are also coming very close to testing (actually, it started last week and we test math in next week). Therefore, I decided to write a PBL for grade 7 that would give the students exposure to the remaining concepts we haven’t covered that I know will be covered on the test (well, I’m 99.9% sure they’ll be covered–I’m going from memory here). Since we live in California, I thought the drought provided a perfect context for our PBL.

We are still in the midst of it, and to be honest, some of the activities have taken a lot longer than I planned for (due to the integration of technology, I think.  Note to self: if the activity is tech-heavy, double the time for the lesson since the students are learning to use the tech at the same time they are learning the concept embedded in the activity).

I created a Padlet as our home base of operations.  Students have found this easier to access instead of posting everything in Google Classroom (although I have the URL for the Padlet posted in Google Classroom). Embedded within the main Padlet are student Padlets that contain links for posting assignments or for jump-starting research.

The students found the work on percents much more relevant because there was context in the Reservoir Data Google Sheet. (This is the assignment that took a lot longer than I anticipated. It morphed along the way due to privacy restrictions on the student accounts, so the final set of directions are actually the fourth iteration).

Students collaborating on their Google Sheet.

This student “two-fisted” his reservoir assignment on a day his partner was absent. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he could open two tabs and pull them apart on one computer.

They started the drought research project today. They had an entry event in the beginning that gave some basic information to prompt some noticing and wondering.  The purpose of the research portion is to revisit those “parking lot” questions and give them the opportunity to hopefully answer some of them. Before even making it through my first group of seventh graders I realized I should have broken it down into two parts: research first, presentation second. Because I introduced the whole shooting match at once, the students wanted to skip straight to the creation phase, and they consequently got lost and didn’t quite know how to start.

The third, and last phase (after some instruction on volume and surface area) will be to develop a rain/excess water storage container that can be used by a single household to help mitigate the effects of the drought. The students will go through the design phase first, and then using scale factor, build a scale model of their storage until. (I’ll post pics in an update when we get there).

Foray into Project-Based Learning

I never was any good at math in school, but I loved puzzles–especially logic puzzles.  I loved playing with numbers and words and pictures and using critical thinking skills (of course not realizing that’s what I was doing–I was a teenager after all) to discover the solutions.

I love that I’m now teaching an IMP class–Integrated Mathematics Program, in case you’re not familiar.  Similar to CPM, but a little “wordier” and “puzzlier”, so to speak. My students are doing so much math, but not even realizing it!  (Well, most of the time anyway.) There is so much writing involved with this curriculum, and I get super excited reading what my students write.  (I used to be jealous of the English teachers at my school because of all the cool things they got to read.  Obviously, not jealous of the all the grading they have to do…but I’ll cover my philosophy on grading in another post.)

Coin flips and finding triples

Students flipping coins and finding triples

We are currently working on a probability unit which is centered around a unit problem–specifically, to find the best strategy for playing a specific game over the long run.  You can read more about it (and the rest of the Year 1 curriculum) here.  The students are convinced that they just get to play a bunch of dice games and flip a coin lots of times.  Fine by me!  We are currently a third of the way through the unit and already I can hear, see, and read that the theories they started the unit with are evolving. That’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.


Students recording their coin flips

I’m having a great time teaching this unit…and I hope the students are too!