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).

What the….STEM?

I’m taking part in a 3-year program that is a partnership between our district, University of the Pacific, and the Teacher’s College of San Joaquin that is a focus on STEM education: Mathematics with Added Science, Technology, and Engineering for Relevance, a.k.a. MASTER (you can view our website here).  I’m a week-and-a-half into the first two weeks and I’m in love.  I’m looking at this with two sets of lenses: teacher and parent.  I was so enthralled within the first two days that I spoke with the principal of our new K-3 STEM charter school about transferring my first-grader there.  The focus on problem-solving,  21st century skills, and gearing children toward careers in science and engineering fields is something that I know my son will thrive on.  But, I digress….

On day 6, we participated in an edcamp-style rotation called Engineering and Tech Day.  We signed up the previous week via Google Docs for the three 2 hour sessions we wanted to engage in.  I chose to learn about Scratch, Breadboard Circuitry, and Makeshift Robotics.  While all were very cool, I (with my two sets of lenses) really loved the Makeshift Robotics.

The idea was to use the any or all of the given supplies (plastic cups, duct tape, popsicle sticks, markers, clips, motor, batteries with pack, and various decorations) to create a robot that would create a piece of art.  Here are some examples below (credit to Maryanne Friend and Lori Green for the pictures, which you can also view on the Lincoln Master website):


Lori Green and Sylvia Turner, leaders of the MASTER program, testing their robotic skills.

My partner, Karen, and I were so involved in the “tweaking” part of creating our robot, that we didn’t pay much attention to how it looked–and unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of it (probably for the best…it was pretty ugly aesthetically challenged).  But you get the idea from the above photos of other projects what we were trying to create.  There was so much inquiry, engineering, and problem-solving going on with just this small project.  I could have easily spent an entire day working to perfect our robot.  As it was, we had an hour to plan and build, and we sucked that up in no time flat.  

All in all it was a fun day, and I learned a lot.  I’m more excited than I have been in years to start the new school year!

My Review of “Teach Like a Pirate”

I’m under no illusions that I’m some fantastic book reviewer. In fact, “Teach like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess is the first book I’ve discussed here. However, I had several takeaways that I want to remember and share.

Dave wrote this book based on an acronym: PIRATE.


P is for Passion

I’ve identified my three passions that directly affect my instruction and demeanor in the classroom.

Content passion: proportionality because it is far-reaching into other mathematical concepts. It is also (in my mind) the most applicable to the real world out of the standards that I teach in 7/8 math.

Professional passion: learning more about how to teach all students, no matter their level of learning. That’s why I read so many books. That’s why I changed my grading system to SBG.

Personal passion: fitness and health. By sheer genetics, I have inherited a host of issues that could possibly rear their ugly heads. I want to negate those issues. I want to be around for my children through all stages of their lives. I want to grow old with my husband. I absolutely do not want to be incapacitated in any way because I didn’t take good enough care of myself. I got into CrossFit because I wanted something more out of my workout. I feel like I’m a better person because I push myself to my physical limits for one hour a day. And my family thanks me for it because I have used that one hour of time to unload all the stress I’ve accumulated from my day.

I is for Immersion: Swimmer or Lifeguard?

I want to be a swimmer. I need to immerse myself into my students’ learning so I can ensure they are receiving the best I can give them. I’ve been a lifeguard for longer than I care to think about.

R is for Rapport

This past school year was the most challenging behavior-wise. However, there was one student, Martin* who seemed to have trouble in every class but mine. I didn’t realize until I read this book why, but I made an effort to connect with him for a few minutes every now and then in between classes. Imagine what I could have done if I had extended myself like that with other students! No excuses to be made, but I allowed myself to be overcome by minutiae everyday. It exhausted me, and I retreated into myself instead of ratcheting up my enthusiasm.

A is for Ask and Analyze

“Ask, ‘How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?'” (p. 43) I can strive for this with each lesson…I know it may be unrealistic to expect myself to come up with magic for every. Single. Lesson. But I can certainly open myself up for the possibility.


I most definitely can stand to be more enthusiastic. There are moments…days even, when I can feel myself in the zone and the students respond to that like you wouldn’t believe. I have to keep that spark going, and that may mean faking it when I’m not feeling it. But Dave brings up a great point about that–when you force yourself into the enthusiasm zone, you soon come to a point when you’re not forcing yourself anymore…you’re truly feeling enthusiastic.

Every Pirate needs a hook!

I loved the multitude of hooks he provided in the book. Some I KNOW I can implement, and some may take some self-talk (putting myself into character for example). Others I’ll have to practice or be super creative with (storytelling for example–I can’t tell a joke, so why should I expect myself to tell a story? And I teach math, so I might have to pull from the recesses of my brain for stories or perhaps use picture books in that realm).

Overall this book gave me a jolt of enthusiasm for next year. I have a lot of ideas already floating through my head that I need to organize.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.