Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Keepin' It Real

I'm going into my fourth year of teaching math at New Tech High @ Zion-Benton East. I love my job. I've discovered that I'm actually, perhaps, maybe, starting to get halfway decent at it. At least there's a chance that I am. There's perpetual room for improvement, and today I wanted to talk briefly about one area I hope to improve this year.

In my first few years of attempting to teach a PBL/PrBL math class, I've come up with some projects that are pretty good at simulating authentic real-world tasks: Creating a different type of Oreo cookie package for Nabisco; creating a scale drawing depicting how furniture should be laid out in a dorm room; and designing a hole for a miniature golf course.

These projects are certainly useful ways to help students see how math can be used for creating and improving products in a real-world context. On the other side of the coin, they fall short when it comes to real-world results. We didn't actually create a real Oreo package for Nabisco; we didn't actually have a real room with real furniture for our scale drawings; we didn't actually build a real mini-golf course.

They were real-world projects without real-world results.

As Dennis Littky probably would put it, I had the students doing "fake real work" instead of "real real work." Something like that.

I want to change that this year. As I continue on my journey of teaching PBL/PrBL math, I believe one of my next steps is to move my students away from the "fake real work" and into the "real real work." I want students to use math to actually create things; to innovate; to predict; to think critically; to affect their community in a positive way.

How do I do this? I haven't completely figured that out. I think I have a good start with the election-themed project idea I blogged about last time. I'm hoping my students can use their experience with this project to learn more about important issues, about making informed decisions based on available data/information, and about making defensible predictions.

A few of my students will even be voting this year; this might really help them learn about being informed voters.

And, because I want my students to produce real-world results, I need them to have a real-world audience. That's why students will be publishing their findings on our class blog (link coming soon) for the community and the rest of the interwebs to see, as well as sharing them with the Obama and Romney campaigns (fingies crossed that they'll actually take a look).

I think that's a good start in my goal to move away from "fake real work" and giving my students the chance to do "real real work."

But I need more. It probably sounds overly ambitious to the point of absurdity, but I want my students to always be using math to become better citizens and to benefit their community. I think the key to this is "real real work." I would love to have 100% of the school year consist of "real real work." (At this point, I'd be thrilled to even get 25% of the school year that way.)

So that's one of my goals this year. I want my students doing "real real work" that has a positive impact beyond the classroom. I'll certainly be scouring and engaging the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and meatspace for ways to accomplish this.


  1. I love this goal and don't think it absurd at all to want students to use math to become better citizens. I wonder about a project with KIVA? When I heard Dennis Littky say "fake real work" it hit home! To reach for "real real work" is going to be a challenge and one that we should all rise to! I look forward to your class blog, you can count on me to comment for your students!

  2. Thanks Theresa! I was following the live-tweets of his keynote at NTAC12 and that comment hit home with me as well. I'm hoping to put it into practice this year.

    I haven't heard of KIVA, what is that? A cursory Google search turned up a lending company and a packing equipment store.

  3. I'd love to see your project on designing a mini-golf course. My co-worker suggested it the other day for our geometry classes. There's a courtyard at our school that never gets used, maybe we could even have each class create a different hole and compete for which one people like best!

    Also, I would guess Theresa meant the lending company. They do micro-loans and anyone can invest any amount in a project of their choosing.