Apply project-based learning principles to successfully engage students in your Algebra I classroom.
Education in the United States is shifting, as the Department of Education, school districts, and educators attempt to plan the next steps toward improving the quality of how children learn. Many educators are exploring student-focused, personalized pedagogy – and at the center of this movement lies project-based learning, or PBL.
During project-based learning, students develop solutions for a problem by taking steps that apply concepts relevant to curriculum. Proponents hail project-based learning as an alternative teaching method that promotes student engagement, critical-thinking skills, collaboration, and confidence. When implemented in an Algebra I classroom, project-based learning will refine the skills necessary for students to succeed in real-world career situations. Here are some sample project-based learning activities you can use with your Algebra I students.
1. Olympic Algebra
Throuhgh its NRICH program, the University of Cambridge promotes the use of math through providing relevant project-based learning activities. In its “Charting Success” outline, the university provides sports data shown through graphs, charts, and diagrams. Students must answer questions regarding different sporting events, such as Roger Federer’s game trends, football player positions, and Olympic performance.
2. Seeing the Sequence
Within this project-based learning exercise from Thinkport.org, students will consider the patterns found in potential real-life events and use algebra to determine the sequence. Referencing circumstances that can occur through trends in weather, health, and population growth, the assignment asks students to distinguish between arithmetic and geometric sequences, identify missing values, and analyze growth.
3. Bee-ing Great in Algebra
In this activity from Teach 21, project-based learning focuses on using algebra for business relocation, yet also brings attention to bee populations, which have been threatened over the last few years. This hypothetical scenario allows students to spearhead the effort by using data and graphs to present findings regarding the locations that will best suit company needs.
4. Owl Box Project
Through this activity, completed by the York School in April 2014, students will use algebra concepts to create a home for owls. Students must decide upon the appropriate size of the box, calculate all measurements of every piece, and height of the post on which it will sit. To maximize community involvement, as shown in the York School project, enlist the help of others, including parents, faculty and students, specifically those enrolled in environmental sciences.
5. Algebra Ace in Space
When planning algebra lessons, outer space isn’t the first scenario that comes to mind. In NASA’s ASCENT: 50 Seconds to MECO, students determine a linear function using space shuttle ascent phase velocity and acceleration graphs. Through this project, students will examine domain and range, independent and dependent variables, and algebraic functions.
Project-based learning has been extremely helpful to engage students in economics and other math-based subjects. Learn more about organizing project-based learning in the classroom by reviewing STEM Jobs’ free “Understanding Project-based Learning” guide.
1. NRICH, University of Cambridge
3. Teach 21
4. York School
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Dorothy Crouch is a California-based writer who has covered many topics such as financial technology, travel and the pet-goods industry. Born and raised in New York City, she pursued her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and an M.S., Publishing degree through Pace University. Combining her love of learning and curiosity of the world, Dorothy studied abroad at Dublin, Ireland’s Trinity College, igniting a passion for travel. Dorothy’s thirst for knowledge and love of learning has led her to travel the world and pursue higher learning, including scuba certification. A lifelong animal lover, Dorothy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their fish and two lovable, spoiled dogs.
This lesson on graphing conic sections rocked on multiple levels. For the students, it involved concrete mastery of standards, conceptual understanding of several topics, higher order thinking skills, student autonomy and intellectual need. For the teacher, Mr. Cornelius of Great Oak High School, it was a week’s worth of experimenting with new software and pedagogy. The genesis of the lesson was a combination of an email and a diagram. I had sent to my Math Department a link to the free online graphing calculator Desmos.com; a mutual colleague, Michael White, shared the idea of having students use their knowledge of equations to graph a smiley face. Mr. Cornelius merged these ideas into a new 5-day lesson in the computer lab. That week produced a multitude of pleasant surprises.
Michael started with a whole-class demonstration of Demos at the end of the period on a Friday. He posed the Smiley Face graph (shown above) as the minimal requirement for passing the assignment. The strength of this lesson is two-fold: 1) There are a variety of equations involved (circle, ellipse, parabola, absolute value, as well as linear), and 2) repeated restriction of the domain and range.
Michael invited students to create their own designs for a higher grade. He expected only a few takers, but in the end only a few decided to produce the Smiley Face, and this is where the richness of the lesson was truly found. During the week-long lab session, I observed one of the days and took a few pictures of some works-in-progress.
As you can see, the students independently chose to include inequalities in order to produce the shading. Here was my favorite use of shading.
What really impressed me about the lesson was the examples of students who asked to learn something new in order to produce something they chose to create. In the example below, a student wanted a curly (wavy) tail for her pig. Mr. Cornelius taught her how to graph sine and cosine waves. Granted, this was a superficial lesson, but to see someone wanting to learn a skill from next year’s course was a treat.
The rigor that the students imposed upon themselves, again as demanded by their creative idea, was remarkable. Look at the detail of the door handle on this house.
My favorite moment was this one with Michael and a handful of students. It is not as sexy as the pictures that the students were producing, but it was far more significant. Three students all had a similar question, so Mr. Cornelius conducted a mini-lesson on the board while the rest of the class worked away on their graphs. The topic on the board was not part of Michael’s lesson plan. It was sheer improvisation. For me, this interaction was the treasured gem of the lesson experience: A teachable moment generated by an intellectual need.
This was the first run of Michael’s lesson and in a conversation that we had while he was grading the assignments he conceded that he needed a scoring rubric. We also discussed how this idea could be woven throughout both Algebra 1 and 2 courses. The idea of Graphing Designs could span linear, exponential, quadratic and conic equations. I smell a lesson plan brewing!
(P.S. For those of you that get hooked on Desmos, I suggest you also check out the Daily Desmos Challenge)