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Math in the Real World

Today we want to share a story from a math teacher, yes a math teacher! Embracing transformational teaching practices, Elizabeth Pauley, 8th grade math teacher at Cross Timbers Middle school, brought math to life for her students by creating an authentic experience where students could see first hand math in the real world.

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As we began our second semester of 8th grade math, I found myself already thinking past our state assessment into May. What was I going to do with my 8th graders who think they are already in high school?  How can I keep their interest peaked as summer quickly approached?

Sitting in the kitchen one evening, participating in our district tweet chat, I found myself thinking about how I could incorporate 21st century skills into our classroom.  My students had the confidence to apply their knowledge of proportionality: however, they still encountered obstacles when it came to applying formulas for surface area, area, and volume.  How was I going to foster my student’s thinking so they would be able to see the connection?  I wanted them to have ownership in their learning!

How could I create a lesson that was student-centered, utilized technology and collaboration, all the while building a bridge between the abstract mathematical concepts and a real life scenario?

Utilizing my district instructional coaches, we began the adventure of creating my students’ first PBL.  Meeting during my conference period, Heather and Aubrey helped guide my thinking as I narrowed down the standards that I wanted to cover.  The chart paper was pulled off the tablet, while the markers etched across the page.  I found that not only did I want this PBL to cover measurement standards, but I wanted it to incorporate the majority of what my students had learned this school year.  I wanted them to experience the connections that are found in the world outside the classroom walls.

Dissecting the standards and focusing on the verbiage focused me as the educator and helped to create the driving question for our PBL:  “Based on the cuts in school finance, how can your design team create a middle school athletic facility to increase revenue?”

The week between creating our driving question and meeting with our instructional coaches was challenging.  Challenging because I had to think; think about what my students’ prior experiences were and what our long term learning goal was.  The question kept echoing: How was I going to create a bridge to yield success in our classroom?  Then the answer:  Innerput.

Innerput are workshops that lead to eliminating misconceptions, while creating connections between experiences.  By creating these workshops for my students, on concepts I felt they may struggle with, I had more confidence about embarking on our PBL adventure.

The thinking started naturally. After our state assessment on a Tuesday, I told my students I was sorry to miss their track meet.  Many looked around the room with confusion.  Come to find out it was not our school’s meet but another in the district.  My students loved explaining to me how we had to give up “our” field for others.  Questions soon arose as to what happens with the money that is collected at athletic events.  Students were thinking!

To spark conversation and more thinking, I gave students various articles about athletics and school funding; why athletics were vital to our educational system and why athletics were being cut from budgets.  Holding a Socratic seminar yielded ownership in students learning, as each held a role in our conversations.   Having to defend different viewpoints, allowed students to begin seeing both sides to our current problem.  What role do athletics play in a school district?

Based on classroom discussions, we looked at the budgets of our school district and campus.  Much to students’ amazement not much money was given to our athletic program.  Thinking was occurring and discussions were happening all because my students were part of the problem and soon to be part of the solution.  As we dissected our budgets, students began to email district officials about the choices behind why certain campuses received more money.

Because our high school is being renovated, both the project manager from Pogue Construction and head architect from Huckabee Inc., spoke with my students about their roles on the design team and what role their company serves in the design process.

Students quickly realized they needed to collect data that was reflective of our student body.  Based on student needs, the facilities were being researched.  Students began researching:  How much space would we need?  Could fields be multipurpose?  How expensive is equipment?

Students quickly realized how expensive construction is.  They asked how our district could afford so many renovations.  I invited our chief financial officer to speak with my classes.  She shared about our district budget and how we give money to other schools.  Students had already discovered the state had cut funding, and now they were learning how much money actually stays within our district.  Hearing that only $0.65 stays in GCISD, students began to get fired up.  They were determined to find solutions on how to increase our district’s revenue.  It was time money stay in GCISD for GCISD students!

Knowing an authentic audience is vital to the success of a PBL, we began to discuss who had a vested interest in our school district.  Students determined that their parents, educators, district administrators and community members, as well as themselves had an interest in the success of GCISD. These conversations resulted in invitations being sent to our district administrators, school board members, educators and parents to come evaluate our final presentations and determine which bond election would pass.

We’ve had our obstacles and arguments over which ideas are the best and how much money to spend and which sports venues to include.  However, each group has learned to problem-solve and justify their thinking.  With various roles in our design teams, students are able to contribute in a meaningful way through their personal strength.

Unlike most educators, I am not counting down the days until summer vacation; I am looking forward to learning about my students’ creative solutions to a real-life problem.  We are learning right until the end. Students have realized numerous factors go into building an athletic facility:  cost of materials, location, architectural design, fees/permits,  but most importantly, they’ve learned that communication and collaboration are vital to the ability to solve a problem!

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One thought on “Math in the Real World

  1. Amy June 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm Reply

    I am sharing this post with math teachers on my 9th grade team. We are encouraged to move toward PBL in our classes next year. “What do real world projects look like?” Is a question we need to discuss a lot more. Elizabeth hit it with the work her students delved into here! Very cool.

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