Saturday, November 26, 2016

Attempting "Real World Learning"

So, forced into facing my fears and reservations by a class assignment, I dipped my toes into the “real world” learning ideas.  I know many would criticize my baby steps, but for me, just getting started was a big challenge. (See my question-laden blog post for proof!)  I grabbed several
“mini” projects as my entry points.  I would say I have mediocre feelings about my results, but a lot more ideas of how to make it better next time.

Dabbling - Short applications/extensions, Geometry
My very first forays were quite short, but I wanted to get started before I lost my drive.  I had two different tasks asking students to go apply geometric knowledge to real situations.  In one activity, I asked students to find a picture in nature and use a drawing app to label parallel lines and angles.  In a second activity, I asked students to find an ad and apply conditional logic to it.

While I really like these assignments, and I think I will use them again.  I definitely didn’t provide the feedback I could have and I did not have students reflect or connect this knowledge to the more traditional work we do.  However, it was a start.  I think these two activities actually connect stronger to the unit ELOs, so I will be working to strengthen them into more meaningful learning opportunities.

Project 1-Similarity in the real world, Geometry unit additions

I opened my geometry unit on similarity with an activity exploring the scale factor relationship of phi in our facial features.  I also connected the concept of phi to the golden rectangle and Fibonacci sequence.  While these are not directly related to ELOs, I felt that if I got students more interested in the relationships, they could connect to the course work more.  The Fibonacci sequence is discussed in later math courses, so an early introduction and different application now might make their next encounter more meaningful.  I closed the unit with a nature application video about the golden ratio and a discussion of non-typical math careers, like web designers and fish hatchery technicians.

Based on my student survey, the students liked the facial features activity, but didn’t entirely connect it to the learning we were doing.  I did have them jot some notes after the activity, but I did not collect these.

I know I rushed the career piece.  I was worried about time, and I spent too much time “telling” instead of letting students discover and explore.  I think a course-long exploration of math careers could be a nice addition and not take too much time from coursework.  Perhaps exploring 1-2 careers each unit or pursuing research into career areas of interest would be the direction I would take this in the future.

Project 2-Content area reading in Math class

As part of our Content Literacy standards and our building goal, I have tried to implement content reading (nonfiction) into my credit recovery math class.  As an English teacher, you would think this would be easy, but several unique problems present themselves.  First, students compartmentalize their learning and have been very resistant to “reading in math, I have an English class for that.”  I am working on the buy-in of nonfiction and critical literacy.  Second, time is a factor.  In a self-paced, credit recovery course, the students resent anything that takes away from their work time (even though they often waste time).  Again, getting the buy-in is crucial.  Lastly, the actual implementation and skill work is challenging.  Many of these students struggle not only with math but also with reading.  I am using Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies as a resource, but it is slow-going.  It is also challenging to find engaging articles at an appropriate reading level.  
I was very excited about my first article, but in hindsight, I did not anticipate the resistance I would get and should have set the activity up differently.  For the second article I provided candy motivation, so I will have a hard time topping that and I am not sure how effectively students “read” the article either.   It will be a work in progress.

All in all, I would say I have taken very small baby steps, and I will continue to look for places where application is appropriate.  I still have deep concerns about the balance of additions and keeping activities as “real” as possible.  Yet, if we don’t continually examine what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, and why we are teaching it, we aren’t doing our jobs.  

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