Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You Don't Prune Cotton!

My opinion of projects has changed.  I used to look for something that encompassed as many skills as possible as an alternative way for students to demonstrate their ability to perform a process.  I'm over that. 

This year's Farming Project went better than expected.  Last year, I assigned it to groups, but this year I had each student choose a different number of acres and go to work.  Instead of worrying about all the how to's, I focused on they why's.  I didn't realize how conceptually strong this project could be until I started having conversations with students as they had each task signed off.  Kids had to discern that you don't prune cotton, you don't spray herbicide on acres you're not farming and you can't hire 14.3 crews.  Finding the graphs of the inequalities was the easy part so I had them explain to me what each part of the expressions meant within the context of the problem. 

Learning truly became a conversation. 

The most interesting part came when I had students do a self assessment.  I had already spoken with each student regarding each task so I knew what they knew.  I was interested in how much they thought they knew.  I think that by the time we tackle a project like this, their own feedback becomes more important than mine. 

What do you think you know?

Each student assessed themselves in the following categories:

  • Time management
  • Understanding the math behind the project
  • Explaining the math behind the project
  • Ability to work independently (how much help did you need?)
  • Overall performance

Surprisingly (or not) each student gave a very accurate (and honest) self assessment.  My opinion became incidental.

I asked what they learned.

  • I learned that all of these standards and things we have learned have a place in the real world. I will actually use the things I have learned in eighth grade.
  • I learned how you could use the math we're learning in class in a real life situation.
  • I also learned how to manage my time a little better.
  • I learned how we can take our math skills and apply them to everyday situations. I also learned how to do Standard 15.0 a little better because of Task 8 when we had to combine the 3 workers' times.
  • I definitely learned how to use geogebra better like on project #4 for example. I thought it was so cool to see how the intersection of the two maximum profit lines gave me the acreage of crops I'm planting. I rediscovered how to do a lot of skills I've already learned and learned how to apply them better like [task] #7 [standard]15.0.
  • I learned that math can actually be applied to the real world! I learned how to do a mixture problem a bit differently than i originally knew how before doing this project.I ACTUALLY HAD FUN WITH THIS!! :)
  • I now understand some math skills A LOT better, doing this. I definitely am better at standard 15.0, that killer..:) But overall, I just understand a lot of things better now.
  • I learned how to finally do the mixture problems and how to do the work problems from standard 15.0.
  • I learned so much more about how math is used in the real world. [YEAH, THANKS MR.COX FOR RUINING MY LIFE AND TURNING EVERYTHING I SEE INTO A MATH PROBLEM.] just kidding. :-)But seriously, after this project, I really did see math in the real world a lot more.  I also had fun practicing skills I hadn't used in a while. Most of these skills I already knew, but 15.0 was a real tough one, that I finally mastered! [for the most part..]


  • Next year I'm going to be less specific with my directions.  Telling them to put the inequalities into a polygon takes away some of the fun in discovering why we graph them.  We will have already done some linear programming, so I shouldn't have to explicitly tell them to do it.  I realize that some kids will just piggyback on the work of others, but I'll usually catch that once they have to justify their answers to me. 
  • Assign due dates.  Even if I don't hold to them, having a flexible schedule will help students manage time better. 
  • Focus on the concepts.  They've been tested on skills to death.  The last thing they need is another project that asks for skill after skill with no real understanding of why the skill applies in a particular situation. 
  • Get rid of having students determine the equation of one of the property lines.  It's completely contrived and has no real application to the project.
  • Grade for complexity of property shape.  Students determine their acreage before they have a plot of land.  Having them determine the dimensions of the property to fit the acreage becomes way more interesting if a student chooses a pentagon or hexagon (as opposed to a triangle) and they should be rewarded for taking a stab at it. 


miss.calcul8 said...

What all does this project entail? It sounds like something I'd like to use but the linear programming has scared me off.

David Cox said...

I do some linear programming prior, so the kids aren't shocked. Project contains solving systems, mixture and work problems and calculating the dimensions o a shape given its area. Full description of the project is linked to in the post.