June 7, 2017

Project Based Learning: Shedding the Light on Area and Perimeter

This year's testing anxiety, both in students and teachers, is OVER!  Thankfully!!  However, so is my math book!  Yes, I know! Years ago, a math book was viewed as a holy grail in teaching.  It was, literally believed, that if you finished your math book there was something wrong with you!  You went too fast or taught too little!  Your students didn't master the  material!  Because, honestly, that's what math was all about-mastery!  In our high stakes testing systems, it is now about production line work!  Get it done-faster, incomplete, and without mastery-or your test scores will suffer!  Many times, we do our quick little "project" based questions at the end of the chapter and call it a day!   They "really" shed a light on what kids know, right!  (I can hear you laughing now!)

So, with the dilemma of no more 3rd grade math to teach and a number of weeks still at hand, I set forth on a quest to really "see" what my kids really knew about area and perimeter with this gem-Build a Park Project!

Let's start with what I really thought shall we!

Misconception #1:  
This will only take a week!

I figured the kids would whip out the required elements and the poster, and poof-done!  Now, the reality is, I was a little bit crazy when I thought this!  I've done tons of project based learning.  I know better!  But for some reason I was totally wrong about this one.  I had safely given them 5 days to plan and 5 days to "build".  I quickly realized that the planning was the deeper problem in this activity.  This leads to misconception #2.

Misconception #2:  
My students know how to use the formulas for area and perimeter!

HA!! Now I can laugh at that!  From my brightest to my struggler, they were just counting.  Over and over again, just counting!  We had completed lessons, we had used the formula.  It didn't matter-JUST COUNTING!!  This was quickly evident when none of them KNEW the formulas, even though we had just finished the chapter about a week before!  JUST COUNTING!  This was eye opening!  When we assume from a chapter that they get it, we are doing just that, assuming!  Our biggest struggle came with perimeter.  They could quickly adapt to the area formula-length x width- but the perimeter was a whole different thing!  They relied so much on counting that they didn't even know what numbers to add!  Yep, major misconception on both of our parts!

You can see the planning stage here.  This is where counting took place, from their rough ideas. This led to many problems in calculating using the formulas.  

Misconception #3:  
Required elements are required, right!

I have completed projects with my students that had required elements.  They were successful at that!  In math-it was like a whole new idea!  I had kids creating things with ZERO required elements.  Once I started checking here and there, it was like a lightbulb went off!  I had one student who had to scrap her whole project because they didn't understand that the list I went over and specifically said they needed was, well, required! So, this was another eye opening thing for me!
I worked with this student to adjust some "required" elements because they clearly knew the math on paper but just "missed" the idea of what "required" meant. 

Misconception #4:  
"Doing" the math will be easy.

When you are looking at basic adding and multiplying, you would assume that these are easier skills that students can complete.  However, this is a crossing over of skills, making it more complex.  This means that divergent thinking had to mix with convergent thinking (a concept I am currently reading about in a book called Make Just One Change.)  This cross over meant many easy mistakes being made.  Could they pull the numbers they need and then make them equal to what they "THINK" the area or perimeter was.  They wanted to draw squares instead of use lengths and widths in their drawing.  That meant skipped squares or unequal rows and columns.  That equaled FRUSTRATION!  Nothing that couldn't be solved, but they just couldn't "see" how the error in their drawing made the error on the math page.  Very enlightening I must say!
This shows that this student did not connect the area formula of 6 x 5 = 30 to how it should be correctly modeled.  

Misconception #5
 Presenting an idea will be easy with the R.A.F.T. method, after all, that's what it is for! 

If you have never heard of the R.A.F.T. method,  you are missing out.  This easy to use writing strategy is a fun way to motivate students to write.  The have a R. role, A. audience description, F. format  for a topic to be written as, and T. the topic to be written about.  I motivated them with this idea:

Yet, I got everything from a minute of sharing which sounded blah to a full fledge sales pitch.  The R.A.F.T. did motivate them, but I did not give enough information for all kids to really get it!  So, I got wise. While kids were sharing projects, I jotted a few great ideas I heard and, with that in mind, created a guiding document to help the students next time!  Here are some of the great ideas I heard from their presentations:
        *Share the name of your park (obvious, yet missed by many)
            *Include the theme of your park and why it is that theme
            *Share important locations and how they can be enjoyed by "guests"
            *Include a reason to invest in your park-what are the best qualities?
            *What is the price range to invest in your park?  (This is a great practice in place value and
              the value of land, etc.

This was one of the projects that had a full sales pitch as well!  

That about wraps these misconceptions up!  It was truly an enlightening thing to do.  The BEST moment of this entire experience was when my true math struggler made a HUGE connection between the formula and the shape, something this student had missed all along, even when counting. This student had that sudden light bulb moment where they literally went "OHHH!" when writing out the perimeter formula!  This child also scored the best they have ever scored on anything in math because other qualities emerged.  Their ability to give a good presentation, the detail they put into the project that others did not, the pure success this child felt all became a key component in the end result.  It truly reminded me of the reason why we must be do projects in math-and it will spur me on to find more!  

So, here it is!  

As you can see, this project is fun and informative for both the student and the teacher.  And, you get everything you need to complete this project and assess their work.  It really is an amazing project that I am so glad that I completed with my students and hope that you will complete with yours!  Let me know what you think by adding a comment too!  

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