Tag Archives: PBL

Interdisciplinary PBL Collaboration (with a side of Design Thinking thrown in!)

I’ve had the pleasure of working with 2 fantastic colleagues, Zach Strother and TJ Edwards, on an Interdisciplinary PBL “Unit”.  TJ had the idea of HMW we redesign a bike for an urban commuter that he wants to use in his Tech, Engineering, and Design (TED) class.  Zach teaches AP Physics.  I teach Algebra 2.  As I left our time of collaboration this morning, I reflected on how fortunate I am to work with these guys, how well we work together, and how learning from them is making me a better math teacher, which benefits my students.  Part of what works in our collaboration is that we chose the project and each other.  We come from similar mindsets to education, though not identical, which probably minimizes the disagreements.  Yet, we also feel comfortable enough to push back on certain things and talk through disagreements as we get to unity.

This started when I was at NCTM Boston in April.  I noticed a lack of Design Thinking at the conference.  I emailed TJ & Zach before I even left Boston asking if they wanted to put together a proposal for the NCTM 2016 conference. And oh, by the way, proposals are due on or before May 1.  They both were in and when I returned to the ATL, we got to work.  TJ already had the idea of the bike redesign.  We worked together as to how we would lead a conference session through parts of the DT process, while also sharing the results of how we implemented the project at our own school. Proposal submitted on exactly May 1 and now we await word if it will be approved.

Zach suggested we apply for summer grant work from our independent school as they were wanting teachers to create interdisciplinary projects.  TJ submitted that proposal, we were approved, and so we have spent time this summer creating the UbD plans for our individual courses, times when we will have the students together, rubrics, and the timeline for the whole project.  (My Alg 2 UbD plan is here.)

It was chance that my CP Algebra 2 class is the same period as Zach AP Physics.  We don’t have any students in common, and we think that makes it better.  TJ’s class will start the DT process with interviewing users (empathy) & 3 bikes, then fill in a project brief to hand off to the AP Physics students.


Zach will have some labs pre-designed, but also have the students design 1 lab from scratch based on the needs of the TED students.  The Alg 2 students will do the labs with the Physics students, take the data back to work on in our classroom, and then fill in the project brief with their results.  The AP Physics students, who are further along in their math career than the CP Alg 2 students, will give feedback on the math to my students! I love students getting directions and then feedback on the results from other students. After all of our labs, the project brief goes back to the TED students for iteration.

We will each be assessing our students on our specific content learning outcomes, content area processes (for example, in math the Standards of Mathematical Practice), and then we picked two of our school’s Mindsets – Collaboration & Communication.  We used BIE’s Collaboration & Presentation rubrics as a guide and merged/changed the pieces we wanted to focus on for this project.  So, all students will be self-assessing, peer-assessing, and have teacher-assessing done on the mindsets using the same rubric across all 3 classes.  Additionally, we’ve picked 3 times during the 1st semester where we will get all students together so that they can give each other in person feedback, not just on the planning brief.

I’m excited.  I’m excited for my students to see how the things we do in Algebra 2 get applied in other disciplines.  I’m excited to do physics labs! I’m excited to learn how to bring more science into my classroom.  I’m excited for my students to be a part of a project and realize that they don’t have to be involved in every aspect – much like teams in various occupations – they pass the baton.  I’m excited that I’m finally doing something like this in my classes.

Thanks MV for giving us the grant to make this happen and trusting us to meet both our content learning outcomes & the MV mindsets.


My first attempt at Project Based Learning – Exponential Investment Project

I’ve been reading a lot about Project Based Learning – I’ll call it PjBL to differentiate from Problem Based Learning, which I refer to as PBL.  I’ve been wanting to incorporate PjBL into my math classes, but have really struggled.  One of my Ed. S. classes this semester will require me to create a project with  LoTi of level 4 or above.  So, in the shower this morning, all that thinking & reading started to come together. (Side bar – am I the only one who does their best thinking in the shower?) I’m sure others have created similar, better projects.  That’s ok.  I’m just excited that I’m actually STARTING to create!

I mentioned LoTi in the first paragraph.  LoTi stands for Levels of Technology Implementation.  There are 6 levels.  Level 4 and above is when the assignment/activity/project is more student directed and constructivist in nature.  Some links for LoTi: Loti Framework, LoTi Level Decision Chart, LoTi Sniff Test.

I’ve also been studying indicators of engagement in the same class.  Using this doc from my Prof as a guide, I think this Investment project would include the following indicators of engagement: standards-based, challenging, authentic/meaningful, student-directed, multi-disciplinary, culturally responsive (possibly), explorer, teacher, producer, facilitator, guide, co-learner/co-investigator, collaborative (if I have them do it in dyads), performance-based, seamless/ongoing.

So, my idea is that students research mutual fund investing, create their own investment portfolio using 3 mutual funds (1 high risk, 1 medium risk, and 1 low risk), and determine what they would have at retirement age of 65.  They would also work at analyzing if this were a true situation, would they keep all 3 until retirement age (most people would sell off the high-risk as they get older).  Additional questions I’ve been brainstorming center around the MV Mindset of Ethical Decision Making and having students analyze their spending, saving, and giving decisions based on this and their own faith tradition.  I know, not earth shattering or ground breakingly new, but new for me! Here is a link to the Google Doc where I’m starting to brainstorm and would happily welcome suggestions and/or links to similar projects,  The doc is set so that people can comment directly.  Thanks in advance for any feedback!

The Struggle is Real – Content Time vs. Project Time

I work at an incredible private school in Atlanta.  Our mission (which includes college-readiness for all students) is bold and I love that our leadership is not only willing to step outside the box to improve education, but they are leading the way in completely breaking the box that holds traditional American education.  I was eager to come to this school because of the mission, vision, and mindsets. I knew this was a place that valued both research-based best practices as well as innovative teaching practices.  This is discussed in more detail in our (i)Plan 17.

I knew in coming to this school, I would not only be encouraged to move away from traditional math instruction – teacher lectures all class, students sit silently in rows and take notes, homework is 30 drill & kill exercises – it would be the expectation that my class rarely, if ever, looked traditional.  This energized me as I had already moved away from traditional teaching in my previous school.

My first year we did the “Poverty Project.”  It was 2-3 weeks (I forget which) where students were given time to work on addressing a real world issue in connection with a local organization.  The normal schedule was modified to include time for this project.  There were definite positives in this project, but also a lot of struggle as we went through this process as a school for the first time.  I saw many students quite engaged in the organization we were working with, but I heard that wasn’t the case in many of the other organizations and student groups.  This type of group work was difficult for our students, but that’s ok.  We often have to struggle at first to truly learn something new, and these are skills our students need to learn.

The next year (last year) we did a more extensive year long Capstone Project, which we shortened internally to TDed for Transdisciplinary Education.  9th & 10th graders had the topic of GMOs while 11th & 12th graders had the topic of Land & Water issues. We used a Design Thinking framework as our guideline for progressing through the year.  In November, all teachers included the appropriate topic in their classroom teaching.  For example, I taught my data units in November and taught them through the lens of GMO research and articles.  In addition, we had various schedules throughout the year that gave students time during the school day to work on these projects.  Students were instructed to come up with projects that would “make a dent” in their assigned topic area.  We had a week of “unschool” where students grouped up and pitched their projects for approval, a la “Shark Tank.”  We ended with year with an Expo where all student groups presented their projects on tri-fold boards set up throughout the school.

For the upcoming year, we are doing something similar, but not identical to last year.  It’s being called the (i)Project because we are a school of Innovation, Inquiry, and Impact. Projects will need to be categorized, for the most part, by one of those “I”s. Students will get to choose their topic, so it’s a passion project, and can be in groups of 1-5, meaning they can work individually.  I had the privilege of being on the summer team working to plan this year’s project, and I truly love how we have changed the project.

Here’s where conflict & struggle come in for me – Why? Why are we doing this? How do we know this will work? And what does “work” even mean? With the various schedule changes, I will see my students for 51 days in the Fall Semester (not quarter, semester) and 48 days in the Spring Semester.  I didn’t count the first 1/2 week of school or Final Exams to get those number of days.  And we aren’t on a block schedule that gives us long class times.  Some of those classes will be 55 minutes, some 60 minutes.  Those few extra minutes aren’t enough to get into new material.  I would prefer to meet more often for a 45 or 50 minute class.  How on earth will I address my Learning Outcomes when seeing my students on such few occasions? How can I use inquiry in my teaching when I know inquiry takes longer? How will our AP students be successful on their AP tests?  How can I do cross disciplinary learning with other content teachers when that takes longer? Where is the research that this works? Hattie’s work has PBL at 0.15 effect size.  I know that PBL can have a larger effect size when it’s used not for initial learning, but for deepening learning.  That’s all good.  But does good PBL have to reduce content time to this degree?

I feel pressured to have to go to a more traditional style of teaching just so I can do my job of math instruction.  This isn’t why I came here! 

In addition, I’m a new co-chair of our school’s Pre-12 Math R&D Team.  I’ve spent the last week pouring over our Alg1-PreCalc Learning Outcomes, comparing to each other and the new SAT topics.  How can we reduce our Learning Outcomes so that we still meet the math educational needs of our students & they are prepared for the SAT/ACT, which is part of them being college-ready?  Am I qualified to do this?

I just don’t think we have to reduce class time so much to increase engagement or have students involved in projects or to meet our mission.  We can do interdisciplinary & cross-disciplinary work just by allowing teachers to do it on their own.  I’m so freaked out by this loss of content days that I have no desire to work on lessons with other teachers this year.

To be clear, I want this to all work out phenomenally.  I want our students to learn both the content they need and the real world skills of doing projects.  They will be reaching out to professionals, collaborating with teachers & other students, presenting their findings – the MV Mind at work!

And so, this is the long-winded reason of why I was asking on Twitter about reducing Algebra 2 Learning Outcomes! The struggle is real people, the struggle is real.