I'm still a believer in the taxonomy I wrote about a while back. I can teach duplication like no body's business and finding ways to get students to apply what we are learning isn't a problem. It's the creation part that I get hung up on. I want my students to find ways to make their own connections with the math.
Our attempt at creation.
Assignment: Pick something that interests you; something that you can connect to one of the concepts we've covered this semester. Learn as much as you can about it. Tell us what you've learned.
I only had one requirement: Don't ask yourself, "What is Mr. Cox looking for?"
Keep in mind that I get the kids who taught Clever Hans how to read people. They are fantastic kids, but they also have learned how to game the system. Find a way to jump through the fewest hoops (or at least the most efficient way to jump through them all) while gathering as many points as possible on the way to be-all-end-all of educational existence: The A.
This assignment scared the crap out of some of them. This was the most unhelpful I've ever been. I allowed them to work on their own or in groups (up to 3). We discussed the benefits and pitfalls to working alone vs. working with a group.
We discussed what type of media would best serve their presentation. I learned that when I say, "presentation," kids hear "PowerPoint." I told them that it didn't matter what they used to convey their learning, but if they were going to use visuals, they needed to work with their content, not against it. Does that mean I talked to them about design? I guess I've come a long way since this comment. (Full comment here.)
As we approached the due date, we started to discuss how this assignment should be graded. Again, I took a back seat on this. We just recently opened up the sequoiahawks.org domain for our students to gain access to Google Apps, so this was a great opportunity to have them work collaboratively on a rubric. My 8th graders had some experience with this as we used G-Docs last year, but this was new to all of my 7th graders. The only input I had in this process was to create the document and ask a few questions. The rest was all them.
I found that some of the conversations that took place regarding what to include, what to exclude and what categories were the same (ie. "Aren't self interest and effort the same thing?") were very refreshing. These kids were really thinking about what was important.
It was nice to see students take things that we have done in class and either find a context for them or extend them beyond what we've done in class. There were a couple of presentations that stood out for their creativity and some for their thought provoking qualities. We had a few nice class conversations that came from questions posed in the presentations. Both classes had someone ask the question: is .999...=1? which provided a great opportunity for discussion. The 8th graders were pretty curious and this led to a conversation on ∑ notation, ∞ and limits.
We did have a few groups that mailed in the projects, though. I had a tough time not airing them out publicly (in one case I did) as they showed complete disrespect for their classmates' time. This demonstrates that the hoop jumping is not quite out of their system, although I'd say we are off to a decent start.