Saturday, September 24, 2011

Real Life Problem Solving, Really?

On September 10, 2011 I attended Dan Meyer's Perplexity Session.  I have been reading Dan's blog regularly and following him on twitter.  I also regularly check his #anyqs hashtag for interesting pictures, videos and discussions about math topics that make math real and meaningful for students.  

So, last year after attending a Classroom 2.0 Live webinar in which Dan was the speaker of the day, I decided to start creating weekly real-life problems with pictures of myself with my family.  I worked to tie the content standards of the particular unit we were studying into things that I experienced on the weekends.  The following link is my "bastardization" of Dan's vision:  Real Life Problem Solving.  

I began my journey while on a trip to a Christmas tree farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  It was a big deal because my husband grew up on a Christmas tree farm in the Santa Cruz mountains and had never paid for a tree and had never had a tree that was not from his family farm.  As we walked for hours looking for the perfect tree, I took pictures of my 5 year old son, my husband, tree prices, snack bar menus and more.  Some were for the sake of memories, others were an experiment in giving my students some examples of how math occurs in their daily lives.

Last year I would compile pictures from my weekend into a Google document, always keeping  the content standards we were studying in mind.  Monday morning I would show the document to the students and ask for questions based on the pictures and information I had on the Google document.  I strayed from Dan's vision significantly because I included information with the picture which I thought would steer the student questions in a certain direction.  Interestingly, my students still surprised me with the things they thought of/about when asking questions.  As they posed questions, I typed them into the document and we decided as a class what questions to explore and not explore.  I gave the students a week to work on the questions and it turned out that I had the highest completion rate on any outside of class assignment EVER.  

I am thinking there are a few possible reasons for increased student interest in solving my real-life problem solving questions, non of which are research based.  First, I shared my life with my students weekly and I got to tell some interesting stories while taking pictures for the problems: such as my son and Star Wars pancakes, getting banned from taking pictures in a super market, why we have piles of mail on our floor, valentines, soccer games, toys, and much more.  Second, I integrated technology by using Google documents, Google data, Google maps, Kiva micro loans, and other links and websites.  I did not have a classroom full of computers, in fact I only had 3 student computers, however, the students worked on the problems from home.  Third, the problems promoted collaboration.  The students would sit in front of a computer, pull up the pictures and questions and discuss, debate, contemplate, assume, and problem solve together rather than work alone.  Finally, it provided an opportunity for students to persuasively argue a position they took when solving the problems.  This allowed for multiple perspectives and an incredible discussion the day the assignment was due.

This year the assignment and process are morphing into a different beast.  I think last year I did what was comfortable.  I took the pictures, integrated the technology, aligned the standards, and allowed the students to ask the questions.  This year I have a different group of kiddos and I have the seven hours I spent with Dan Meyer to learn his process and 3 act plan.  This year I am working to make the process more inclusive and collaborative.  I am also working to make it 

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