Planning for Math at a Project-Based school
The academic year at my new school starts in a little over a week! We’ll have 150 to 160 students this year in grades 6-10. I’m teaching math and technology and am partnering with one other teacher for our mathematics curriculum. We’ve been working hard over the past month to get some key pieces in place. Not everything will be ready on day 1, but I feel like we’ve made some important decisions and we can go forward this year and see how we like it.
We plan on having students explore mathematics through venture projects, but we realize we would need to make compromises we may not want to make in order to cover the key Common Core standards. Compass School’s key mission is to help students learn by growing their interests & passions while connected to their community, and if we’re faced with a choice to cover quadratic factoring or doing something authentic with the kids, we’re going to do authentic work. We’ll include the math that makes sense in context, but have no intention of forcing a fit such as “find a way to include polynomial division in our study of recycling programs in Fort Collins”. No. It will be easy to include number sense, proportional reasoning, financial literacy, data analysis, charting & graphing, spreadsheets, estimation, and prediction, so those will be emphasized through projects.
Many higher math skills aren’t necessary, relevant, or meaningful to a teenager making their way in the world. And yet we’ll need to be sure kids understand them – through Algebra I / Integrated I if they’re unsure about their college plans, and through Algebra II / Integrated III if they are college bound. Colleges expect to see a solid math background, and if a student is enjoying it and wants to go through Calculus, we need to accommodate that. So there is the crux of our philosophical problem – how to create the conditions for students to learn in real-world, authentic contexts and also gain proficiency in math concepts that don’t lend themselves well to real-world authentic contexts? I wish we didn’t have this dilemma, but here we are.
We’re going to create this balance by offering flex time in addition to venture project time. Flex time can be either at the beginning of the day or the end of the day – it’s the student’s choice. We have scheduled 45 minutes a day, 4 days a week. We have come on board with Summit Learning Systems, which is a free content management system and curriculum and personalized learning tool provided by Summit Public Schools. My partner and I will do some intake testing at the beginning of the year, using MAPs and if needed, some of the short diagnostic tests provided by Summit. Since there are two of us teaching students of many different abilities and we will have no “grade levels” at our school, we’re going to group the kids in one of four flexible math groups to start.
Math 1 is number sense and arithmetic (4th-5th grade math standards).
Math 2 is pre-algebra (6th-7th grade math standards).
Math 3 is algebraic concepts (8th grade and Integrated I standards)
Math 4 is higher math (Integrated II and Integrated III).
pre-calc (and we may have a couple of students in this boat) will have its own personalized learning plan set up in Summit and may be on a special schedule.
Each group will get 1 or 2 teacher-directed lessons a week, using the Launch-Work-Wrap structure in groups. In each math group, the general concepts are the same so we can select lessons that help build students’ ability to use multiple representations, understand and communicate concepts. Then once or twice a week, the students will work on personalized learning time, doing exercise sets either alone or with a partner. Once a week, we will have Portfolio Time to work on application problems or interesting puzzles. The personalized learning time and portfolio problems are all built into Summit Learning Systems. They’re a really cool feature and we’re excited to use them.
If a student passes off all of the power standards for a math band, they can get promoted to the next math band regardless of how old they are or what “grade” they would normally be in. We have a few different systems that we can use to check off standards for students and I am not sure what that looks like yet. We need to have this in place by Labor Day or else be prepared with lots of clipboards and papers in the meantime.
One of our first projects will be on defining yourself and your identity. It’s the foundation for the rest of the work we’ll do with kids. As part of this project, we’ll explore how quantifying your life can help you better communicate who you are. I made a quick example for this below. I also think this little project can be a good formative assessment for how comfortable our students are using proportional reasoning, statistics, graphs, and formulas as tools for communication.
Those are the big ideas behind where we are so far! This is a bigger role in planning kids’ math education than I have ever held before, and I hope we do a good job with it. The systematic development of these math skills can sometimes be a weakness in project-based learning but I think we have a pretty good structure for making it work for us and the kids.