I just wrapped up a fairly successful school year. My students definitely learned a lot more this year than last, but I still feel like there is a ton of room for improvement. Specifically, I need to do a better job making connections between PBL tasks and the concepts taught.
I’ve been working hard to create 3 Act Math tasks this year. However, I’d like to focus on the details of implementing the tasks. My hope is that this post will provide some things that have and haven’t worked for me and also get feedback and suggestions from the countless other teachers doing a much better job than me! I’d really like to hear what has and hasn’t worked for you.
One of the biggest challenges I discovered is how to properly add structure to 3 Act Math. The goal of the tasks is to promote inquiry and openness, and I want to stay true to this focus. However, I’ve found that a lot of my students need a little extra structure in order to make it through the activities. My question is, “how do we add structure without compromising the openness and flexibility of the tasks?”
The main attempt I’ve made to add structure is by changing the setup of the handout I provide for each lesson. Here is an example of the original handout I used at the beginning of the year.
My goal with the handout was to allow for as much workspace as possible and to promote the openness of the task. Then, I attempted to make the activity more concrete on the second page by providing space to make connections to the Algebra concept being taught. I found that this setup was sufficient for my students who were already “math confident,” and they would hit the ground running with the task.
However, I noticed that my students who were less confident in math often hit roadblocks and ended up not fully attempting the task. I think my presentation was too open, and this was difficult for the students to process. A lot of it was probably due to the fact that most of them had never encountered PBL before and didn’t know how to approach an open-ended task.
The new handout added enough structure to the task for my less confident students to hang with it for a bit longer, and I feel like it brought more students into play. But, is it too much structure? What do you think?
What does this have to do with making connections? First, adding structure will hopefully keep more kids in the game with the activities. This will create a greater opportunity to make connections. Second, the format that Michael and Andrew provided allows the students to organize many of the great thoughts and conversations that occur during the lessons. I believe this is crucial for connecting the task with the concept.
But I still know that more needs to be done in order to make connections, and this is where I would really like your input. How have you had success in your classroom with connecting concepts to PBL activities? What are your suggestions?
One item I’m going to add next year to each task is a final report handout.
I think this will help get students’ thoughts on paper and also allow me to see what misconceptions they may have. Also, it opens up the door for students to analyze other students’ methods of problem solving, and this will hopefully lead to more concept connecting.
I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say. Ultimately, the students benefit when we collaborate so feel free to drop a comment.