In our first year, I was the only certified math teacher in the building. We started with only 60ish students, so scheduling out a class and teaching it in a novel way, while trying to integrate some facets of PBL wasn't too terribly difficult. Jump ahead 3 months to the new semester and we had doubled in size. We signed on a parapro to help teach some of my sections of Algebra 2 and our Math Learning Center support class, but even then, we didn't feel that the instruction was effective for student learning. Many of the students were engaging in the tasks during class time, and were able to apply some of the concepts, but weren't necessarily able to do some of the quick computations and calculations that they should have fluency in. Why does this matter in a world of calculators and technology? I would like to be able to tell you that my main concern was more than just their ability to score well on a (get ready for it) standardized test, in which those technologies were unavailable to them, but that might be a lie. Performing well on standardized tests is how many teachers, schools and districts are judged; and as such, I needed to ensure my students were doing well. I did have other motivations, however, in that I wanted students to see the beauty of mathematics build up--that even though the numbers or the expression was getting seemingly more and more complex, the simplistic arithmetic and algebraic manipulation they had grown up with could solve their problems easily.
- Pros for year 1--Student: Lots of engagement & applied understanding
- Cons for year 1--Student: Little computation fluency
- Pros for year 1--Teacher: Fun developing and teaching new ideas in novel ways.
- Cons for year 1--Teacher: Difficulty assessing students true understanding and abilities.
We had originally planned for students to work through the mathematics in a very similar way in our second year. However, after attending the PFUNC conference in Minnesota that summer, we heard from many other PBL schools that the computational fluency was the most difficult part of teaching math through PBL and that using a system called ALEKS would help to serve our needs and the needs of our students. We jumped on board. All students were expected to work on their ALEKS for 45 minutes each day during their advisory period. The issue with that? Tons! ALEKS was not Chromebook ready; teachers were not content area experts in mathematics; students received little structured support.
- Pros for year 2--Student: Increased computational fluency, ability to move at their own pace.
- Cons for year 2--Student: Little engagement in complex tasks or applied mathematics, not enough teacher support.
- Pros for year 2--Teacher: Work is computer assessed and students can work independently, making it more clear if a student needs assistance.
- Cons for year 2--Teacher: No planning or curriculum development. Little interaction with students outside of your advisory.
So two years have gone by and the math department has grown from 1 to 4, and I couldn't be happier! This year's implementation strategy: a blended learning classroom with elements of Flipped Classroom and PBL practices. Why the big combination? Well, strict PBL left students unable to compete in terms of computational fluency, and pure online computation left little room for engagement in material. We wanted to combine the best of the two of them, as well as offer additional support for students we are not otherwise in contact with--hence the Flipped classroom approach.
Planning for this crazy mess is going like this:
- Develop the competencies & divide them into marking period focus topics.
- Discuss with fellow teachers the areas we have noticed our students struggle the most and make those the highlight topic for each week in the marking period.
- Find open questions & parallel tasks, formative assessments, and already designed PBL that could work for each week and marking period. Use these as a basis for designing the curriculum (or try some out whole-sale! They are available to the public for a reason! Try something out as is, or put your own spin on it).
- Scheduling out mini lessons, filmed lessons, and performance tasks for each week, as well as scheduling weekly quizzes on ALEKS.