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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Understanding the Structure of Presentations


By: Caleb Abshire
Student
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech
Columbus, IN

Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” The reason a good speech takes so long to prepare is that all good speeches tend to be like trees, at least in their structure. Where a tree has a trunk, branches, leaves, and roots, a speech has a thesis, segues (anecdotes or jokes), visual aids, and facts and statistics.  While a tree pollinates the ground, a speech should be planting a seed in the mind of one’s audience. The elements that make a presentation different are also what make public speaking a powerful form of communication: tone of voice and a direct relationship to one’s audience. However, both of these rely on a well-built and sturdy foundation.

The Roots
The roots of a presentation are its facts and statistics. They are what allow a presentation to stand upright and feed the presentation the nutrients it needs to really blossom. Without solid, credible facts and/or statistics, a presentation can easily be toppled and proclaimed to be a lie.

The Trunk
Carrying the facts and statistics throughout the presentation is the trunk of our metaphorical tree, the thesis statement or motif. A presentation must always be focused, well scoped and purposeful. A presentation without a point is afternoon-tea talk. A thesis could be anything from “I like bananas” to “Bananas are going to cure cancer,” so long as you stick to it and make it strong.

The Branches
The main reason trees are so loved is that they provide lots of resources. They provide shelter, shade, food, oxygen, paper, pencils; practically everything in use today has probably used some part of a tree in its manufacturing. Trees can provide so much of this because of their branches. Likewise, a presentation should give food for thought, a place to put our thoughts into words and act on them, a reprieve from having to fight our own fights, and a record of what humanity is thinking through each sentence.

The Leaves
The leaves of the presentation are the visual aids and jokes or anecdotes used throughout to make the
thesis easy to remember. They make a presentation pretty and are what start the fire in people’s hearts first. Leaves are a tree’s respiratory system; visual aids and anecdotes are a presentation’s. A good visual aid grabs the audience’s attention and reminds them what’s going on. If trees were just wide blocks of wood, they wouldn’t be very fun. Visual aids, jokes, and anecdotes provide the volume to cover a wider breadth of material without suffocating the audience. 

Voice and Audience
A tree doesn’t have a voice to provoke emotion in people; it can do so without one. The speaker must be the voice of the presentation. It is important to know one’s audience in order to prune the “tree” directly to them. Some may say that a tree is much prettier when it was planted for them, and in the same way a presentation is much more likely to be listened to if it was pruned for the audience. Trim the bits that the audience won’t particularly enjoy and substitute with something more relevant, and then present in such a way that the audience will listen by using all of the capabilities of expression given to us as humans.

My Trees
Over the years here at CSA I’ve written and given many presentations. At the end of each project (which we have one of in each class every month) we have to present our findings in a concise and followable manner to score points on our “Oral Communication” Rubric. One of my favorites was presenting my idea for clean renewable energy in a project we call “Shark Tank”, stylized like the eponymous T.V. show. That project was fun for me because I was so proud, not only of my shake-to-charge battery, but because I knew I had a solid presentation to back me up. I had a trunk that focused on the need for a clean, renewable energy source. My mathematics became my roots, and my technical drawings my branches. My stories about working with my dad on electronics provided the shade and beauty that my presentation would have otherwise lacked. My presentation didn’t win, but I was still proud to see that my tree’s seeds had been sown. 

About the Author: Caleb Abshire is a junior at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech. He loves his whole family, including his three younger siblings. He enjoys reading and writing and physics, as well as video games and music.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The 6 R's of Summerrrrrr--May 2018

Trisha Burns
Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN
@BurnsTrisha

Ahhhh...summer.  We are always so excited to see it come, and we are sad to see it go.  As teachers we joke around saying things like “sure we get the summers off.”  The “teacher in the summer” memes make us smile and cry all at the same time.  Regardless if you feel you have a summer “break” or wonder how in the world you ever have time to teach in the first place, there are certain things all teachers should try to do over the summer.
Refresh and Reflect


 I love that I get to facilitate for Magnify Learning in the summer.  It means every summer I go through the steps of planning a project from a beginner’s level.  I love getting to be refreshed on the basics of PBL so often.  It doesn’t seem to matter than I’ve been doing PBL for 10 years and facilitating for 8 years, I still love getting this refresher!  I get to share experiences and my best practices while giving feedback and learning from other teachers across the country. New project ideas are an added bonus to a summer PBL workshop!
 I know not everyone is ready or able to be a facilitator, but throughout the summer we should spend time reflecting on our best practices and refreshing on the basics of our teaching methods.  Maybe you could search project libraries for new project ideas. Maybe you spend time on Pinterest getting new scaffolding or workshop ideas, or maybe you sit down with your team of teachers at a local coffee shop and reflect how your previous year succeeded or failed to live up to last summer’s expectations.  One opportunity that is very beneficial is signing up for a PBL Advanced course. You get to capture the basics of project planning, but you get to do it with a more in depth focus now that you have some experience under your belt.  Whatever you decide to do, take some time to reflect and freshen up on your PBL skills.  
Read and Receive
Hi. My name is Trisha Burns and I am a professional development junkie.  I remember when I
first heard about Project Based Learning.  I was so excited that I was going to be able to go to a week long professional development workshop.  Little did I know it would change my teaching career so significantly.  By taking a week out of my summer, I was able to, with my fellow 8th grade math teacher, plan a whole new curriculum! We had more project ideas than we had time for in the school year. Although 10 years later I don’t still use the same projects we created, I do still use the protocols and planning methods I learned that week.
Summer is a perfect time to learn something new. If you are new to PBL, you should sign up for a PBL Jumpstart course near you, or do some reading through the Magnify Learning blog to become more familiar with the PBL process and culture of your classroom.  Regardless if this school year is your first year of using PBL or your 10th year, there is always something new to learn.  Sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know, and if that is the case, I suggest Twitter for you.  Follow Magnify Learning @magnifylearning or get yourself involved in #PBLchat and begin to learn best practices from other schools or teachers.  I know several organizations have come together to put a framework around PBL at HQPBL. It would be a great place to read about the research supporting PBL and what experts would say is the framework around PBL.   However you decide to learn this summer, take some time to read and receive new information that will make you a better teacher for the upcoming year.  
Rejuvenate and Relax
 
And the fun part. Don’t forget to take time for you this summer.  Take time to relax; take time to rejuvenate. The best thing you can give your family, your team members, and your students is a happy and healthy you.  As much as I like to learn new things and to reflect on the last year, I also like to be able to pursue passions or adventures that I don’t get to experience during the school year.  
If you look at the calendar you may panic.  The summer is so short, and it will go so fast.  How can you make a plan?  Which of the 6 R’s of summer, do you need to make a bigger priority this summer? If you normally spend your whole summer becoming familiar with your curriculum, or planning your projects, or learning something new, don’t forget to take some time for yourself to relax.  However, if you normally spend your whole summer relaxing, don’t forget to think ahead.  A little preparation can truly help you get the year off to a good start and maybe you can stay relaxed a little bit longer into the school year.  
How do you spend your summer?  I would love to hear about the professional development or “aha” moments you have this summer and that you plan to use to help your upcoming school year be more successful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Top 5 Reasons to attend Magnify Learning’s Indiana 2018 Open PBL Workshops


Summer is the perfect time to get refreshed and re-inspired for our jobs! It's also when you actually have a enough time to get some professional development in without feeling overloaded by the hundred other tasks you have to do. Maybe you've been considering trying project-based learning in your classroom or are interested in learning more about it. You might have been wondering how it works and if it's for you.

Our summer Indiana June 2018 Open PBL Workshops are a great option for exploring project-based learning!  If you aren't sure if you want to take four days to get some project-based learning training, here are five reasons to attend:

1. Learn- Our PBL Jumpstart workshops are an excellent opportunity to build your foundational knowledge about project-based learning and develop your PBL skills. We will provide you with the PBL basics and process so you can begin building your own project. If you've already been using project-based learning, then we also provide PBL Advanced workshops to help you refine your PBL craft and dive deeper into the PBL process. Our facilitators are PBL certified classroom teachers who have tried, tested, and implemented their own PBL units. They are PBL practitioners who have walked through the process, and are well-equipped to guide and support you through it as well.

2. Create-During the course of the workshop you will be given guidance and space to design your own project-based learning unit. You’ll have opportunities to ask questions, attend workshops based on your need-to-knows, and create a unit based on your content area. You are the expert of your content and students, so the design of the PBL unit is entirely up to you. We are there to support you as you build the framework for your very own PBL! 

3. Collaborate- Our workshops are all about working together! We run through a series of protocols and practices which create an atmosphere of connecting and collaborating with one another. Throughout the four days you’ll have multiple opportunities to interact and receive feedback from other teachers. You’ll have work time where you can brainstorm with other teachers, and you’ll have opportunities to work one-on-one with your facilitators. Many of our facilitators walk away feeling a sense of camaraderie with their staff and the teachers they meet. Many of them stay in touch and develop a new community partner or fellow collaborator! 

4. Explore-You will not only get to explore the PBL process, but you will also be staying in a city where there are lots of opportunities to explore. Check out the sights and experiences Columbus and Indianapolis have to offer! There are lots of parks, walkways, art districts, shops, and places to eat delicious local food. Try out the famous Zaharakos ice cream in Columbus. See the city of Indianapolis along the beautiful Canal Walk. We've even put together some ideas for you: Explore Indianapolis and Explore Columbus Take some time to recharge, have fun, and see what these cities have to offer!

5. Transform - Project-based learning implemented with fidelity has the power to transform your school, classroom, and the lives of students. It isn't just a fad or quick fix. We truly believe it is the best way to teach and the best way for students to learn. Not only is it empowering to design our own curriculum; it’s exciting to create learning opportunities that are engaging and meaningful to our students. We know that we’ve done our job, when teachers are already wanting to go back to school and try out their projects and it’s only the middle of the summer! 


Any one of our PBL participants will share with you that the four days of training is a small exchange for the positive returns project-based learning will bring you and your students. Plus, now through the end of the month you can take advantage of our Early Registration special and receive 20% OFF! Just use the PROMO Code PBL2018. We hope to see you at one of our Indiana June 2018 Open PBL Workshops this summer!

Monday, April 23, 2018

What to Expect When You're Expecting (to Attend a Magnify Learning Training)


Andrew Larson
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School
Columbus, IN
@andrewmlarson

It is -5 degrees outside (or at least it felt like it for months), so ask yourself this: are you ready for the summer? My guess is that if you are reading an educational blog right now, you are probably also thinking about your next educational aspirations. We hope those aspirations include taking a four-day Project Based Learning journey with us. Please navigate over to the Magnify Learning website for registration information. 

If you have already decided to attend a PBL training this summer, ask yourself these questions now. And don’t just ask them; answer them as well. If you feel like it, write those answers down. 

1. How do you view your role in the classroom? If you come to a Magnify Learning training, you will be greeted by your friendly facilitators, whose job is to guide you through a process of discovery about Project- Based Learning. Yes, it is true that they will teach you everything they know about best practices on the topic of PBL, including how to structure a PBL unit, scaffold student learning, assess student progress, and manage group dynamics. They will refer to themselves as facilitators and not “teachers” or “trainers” because that is how they view their role. The definition of facilitation is to make something easier than it would otherwise be, and that is how PBL educators come to see their role (both in trainings and in their own classrooms.) 

It should be pointed out, though, that both in your training and in classrooms full of students, there will always be a healthy blend of instruction from the teacher (who will henceforth be referred to as the facilitator), collaborative learning, individual research, and exposure to all modalities of learning that will be relevant in students’ futures. You may consider recording your instruction or asking a colleague to observe and take notes during your class in advance of the training, with a specific focus on your role in the classroom: are you the focal point, or more of a facet? Both roles are appropriate for a PBL facilitator, though at different times, and in different ways. 

Some educators have a false construct of PBL as an environment where we give up control and students are free to explore in an unstructured, noisy and chaotic environment. This is by no means how your facilitators will expect you to proceed with students once your training is complete. While it is true that PBL thrives when the learning environment is flexible and when the instructor encourages interdependent learning, and yes, it will probably be a bit noisier at times than a traditional classroom, it is very structured, overall. So if learning to facilitate PBL is a goal of yours, but you are not sure what that looks like in a project-based room, then carry on! 

2. How comfortable are you with not having all of the answers? The training itself will be a
project; this is by design. Your facilitators want you to feel what your students will feel. This will be uncomfortable at times, especially on the first day. You may feel overwhelmed and there will be moments when you think (or say), “Why don’t you just tell us what to do (or how to do it)?” Naturally we know that students have these thoughts and say these things, but do you answer them? Probably not. In all seriousness, though, your facilitators will not have all of the answers, especially as they pertain to your specific school environment. 

Your PBL facilitators do the same things that you do with your students: they take content knowledge, get it in the hands of the learners, and ask them to apply that knowledge in new ways (such as developing a PBL unit that will work in your classroom, and with your students). What they will do is give you all of the content knowledge that they have, and go ask you to apply it to solve a real world problem (by creating your own PBL project).

Educators that implement PBL should be comfortable admitting that they do not know the answer to certain questions. There is a “sweet spot” somewhere at the boundary of the content knowledge you have and where your students can go with that knowledge (that you share with them). If you never find yourself admitting that you don’t know the best way to solve a particular problem, that may be an indication that your students need a bigger challenge. 

3. How well do you know your standards? The reason this question is so important to consider is because it is crucial that mastery of content remain in the forefront of what students walk away with. PBL, though, goes further than simple proficiency; we ask students to apply their content knowledge in order to solve an authentic problem or connect with their community. Your students need to be able to demonstrate that content proficiency and have the many additional layers of 21st Century Skills in their toolbox. Magnify Learning will recommend that as you make a shift to the exciting and sometimes daunting world of PBL, you take a close look at your content standards and pick out a collection of them that you feel either a) have traditionally been challenging for students or b) that you struggle to make relevant for them, or c) might fit together well in an authentic context, even if you previously did not feel empowered to bring them together. 

Additionally, though, PBL offers innumerable value-added components to good classroom instruction, including team collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The aspects of PBL that are not explicitly focused on content can be challenging to manage, but then again, that’s why you are coming to the training! Your facilitators will help you find a balance between delivering content effectively and asking students to apply that content to new situations, all while the students are learning new and invaluable skills that will serve them well into their futures. 

4. How do you get feedback, and how do you receive that feedback?   
A large component of the training is focused on feedback, both from your facilitators and peers. This aspect of the training is one that participants consistently report helped them refine their ideas so that they actually work in the classroom. This aspect of the professional culture that will be built in the training is more than just a way to make the projects better; the use of feedback tends to become a part of the DNA of classrooms, too, as participants will take the feedback tools and teach their own students to use them.  

No need to be afraid. The culture of the training will allow for constructive feedback to flow freely and without fear of judgment. We only ask that you come into the training with an open mind and a willingness to listen to the input of others. Your work will be better because of it. 

5. Who is in your professional network, and how do you leverage the resources and knowledge in it? This goes along with the facet of feedback. And for the most part it just comes down to interacting with others that share common educational interests and experience. If your district already requires that you participate in a Professional Learning Network, wonderful! Perhaps that group can explore PBL topics together or offer feedback on instruction or ideas (projects or otherwise). 

In the social media realm, be sure to check out the ever-growing network of individuals and organizations talking about Project-Based Learning. Naturally, start with @magnifylearning. There are a lot of healthy and progressive discussions happening regularly, including #PBLchat on Tuesday evenings. 

Since you already have enough to do preparing for your classes, we’ll call that enough homework in preparation for a great Magnify Learning PBL training session! We look forward to seeing you this summer, and don’t forget about the discount when you bring a group! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Behind the Curtain of PBL



By: Trisha Burns
CSA Central-Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN 
@BurnsTrisha

There is a balance between teachers teaching what is required and empowering students to drive their own learning.  In fact, it can be one of the scariest parts of starting PBL in your classroom.  However, this is where you have to make sure your project design and facilitation skills are on point.  Think of the project as a play.  Anyone who has ever been to a play knows that there is just as much going on behind the curtain as in front of it.  

Before the project begins, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the curtain.  Teachers start with
Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels
standards, authentic problem ideas, and employability skills that they want to teach and create a project with.  They contact possible community partners and create a list of breadcrumbs, or a trail of clues that the students need to know or be able to do during the project.  Once they have the breadcrumbs written those can become a list of possible need to knows that they make sure goes in to the entry event, which launches the project and hooks students.    

On project launch day, the students receive the entry event and generate their list of need to knows.  If the teacher was intentional with placing breadcrumbs in the entry event, the students asked the questions that the teacher needed them to (and more, because students are way more creative that teachers!) In front of the curtain, the students are driving the project and behind the curtain, the teacher breathes a sigh of relief because the students asked about the content the teacher needs to teach.  The facilitator organizes the students “need to knows” in the order that the questions need to be answered and now behind the curtain, the director has their project calendar in which to build their scaffolding.

Students begin to define the problem they need to solve by summing it up in a driving question.  They should be able to use clues from the entry event to answer these three questions: 
  • Who are we in the project?
  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?

Again, behind the curtain, the teacher planned the entry event with clues in it.  On the stage, the students define the problem which (again) will be even better than what the teacher anticipated.

Next, it is time to get a community partner who can help solve the problem with you.  Behind the curtain, the teacher has already contacted a community partner and has a plan on how it could possibly work.  On the stage, the teacher facilitates a protocol, like a chalk talk, to have the students generate a list of possible community partners.  Again, behind the curtain the teacher breathes a sigh of relief when their possible community partner has been written down. The other thing that happens behind the curtain is that the teacher is given a list of other community partners that he/she never would have thought of on his/her own.  This is HUGE.  The teacher could have just given the community partner to the students and said that they wanted to work with them, but by directing this play (or facilitating the classroom), the teacher was able to give the students’ a voice and the project becomes better than expected. Furthermore, the students gain a sense of empowerment in the project and their learning.

What happens when the students don’t follow the cues or the breadcrumbs the director gives them?  Let’s face it, there are times that actors decide to improv a little, and it makes the director nervous.  However,  if it is a non-negotiable content cue they missed, the director should feel free to lead the discussion or protocol in a way to make the actors realize they need the information.  There are times in my classroom, if I’ve tried to facilitate and ask questions, and they aren’t picking up on my hints, I just flat out ask them or suggest it.  If it isn’t a content non-negotiable, let it go.  This is part of giving up some of the “power” of the play.  Behind the curtain, the director gives himself/herself a pep talk, readjusts the script to make the changes, and then moves on.

The project moves along. The shows goes on, and the director/facilitator begins to see that a lot of  his/her work is done behind the curtain, before or at the beginning of the project.  His/her role switches into giving individual group feedback based on a group's solution or on a group's performance.  The director also spends time facilitating the actors/students to adjust their own progress. Sometimes students need more help than was expected; it’s okay.  The facilitator creates more scaffolding to build the students’ knowledge up and  help them successfully complete the project.  

The most rewarding part of the “play,” is at the end of the project.  This is the time that the teacher is more than excited to step back and let the students get the glory for all of their hard work.  And then when it is all said and done,  the teacher goes back behind the curtain and reflects on the project. This is the time to think through what he or she learned throughout the process. This play has ended, and now it's time to begin planning the next one!





Friday, April 6, 2018

College and Career Readiness: What Should it Really Look Like?


Andrew Larson
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School
@andrewmlarson

The modern American high school is busy preparing students for the future, yet we have no idea what the future holds. Has this always been the case? Not to the extent that we are now realizing. As automation replaces some jobs and paves the way for new ones, the new worker needs to be ready for whatever opportunities the future presents.

What, then,  does college and career readiness mean today? I reached out to those for whom the memory is fresh: alumni from Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, our Project- Based Learning school in Columbus, Indiana.

I asked them what they most appreciated and most lacked as they moved into the college and career phases of life. Their comments are a good reminder of what matters most in school, as well as a hint of what is hopefully the future of American schools. Here is what they told me.

I was shocked. The college workload is relentless (as most of us recall.) Mason Nowels, Class of
Mason Nowels
2013, went on to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. “
I found that I was not prepared for the amount of work I got. At all. I can't count the number of nights that I have spent working until 11 or later. I also wasn't prepared for bad grades. I was a straight A student in highschool and after the first test in Calculus 1 I called my mother freaking out because I thought I got a C.  You have to work REALLY hard in order to get all A's in college. Also going to your professor and complaining that something is too hard won't work. They will offer to help you learn it, but they won't make it easier. If you want to pass you need to know the content.

There is no getting around the “shock and awe” that college freshmen experience. However, as with all things in life, what matters is how we react to those shocks. One of the attributes of success seems to be possessing a Growth Mindset. Having a growth mindset means finding the value and lessons from failures, remaining open to feedback and not viewing it as a threat or insult, and understanding that you will not be good at everything, notat first.

PBL, as a model, emphasizes growth mindset and as such, has measurable benefits for developing persistence in college. According to the New Tech Network Student Outcomes Report for 2016, NTN graduates that went on to a four- year college persisted at a 92% rate. In the age where being accepted to and starting a college education does not mean finishing it, this is an encouraging statistic.

With practice comes growth. Will it be hard? Yes. Will you struggle? Definitely. Will you make it to the finish line? With a growth mindset, you have a much better chance.

Katheryn Henderson
Katheryn Henderson, CSA Class of 2014, remarks that she lacked confidence in high school. Thankfully, her growth mindset and interpersonal skills have taken her far in her career at Indiana State University. "I have great oral communication skills, but I couldn’t make a phone call to ask for donations or sponsorships (while my boss listening) without freezing up. Now one year later, I can make phone calls with no hesitation. My confidence finally paid off when I made the Dean’s List for Fall 2017.”

Education needs to be personalized. Josh Gray, Class of 2013, found a rigidity in our educational system that he wished were not there. Coming from Josh, that is a strong statement as he sought out one of our district’s vocational pathways (in which he thrived) and finished his high school career in a paid School- To- Work internship in mechanical engineering. He remarks, “I wish we, (the
Josh Gray
school as well as the students) had more of a focus on roundness….by that I mean being more capable in a variety of areas instead of extreme focus in one area.  I had to learn skilled trades such as plumbing, welding, machining, etc, in addition to what I knew already about engine theory, in order to be as useful as others, most 10-15 years older than I. Allow kids to seek a pathway they choose and enjoy...a self led education but with the addition of curricula that helps them be competitive and well rounded.” Josh also references growth mindset and communication skills as a key factor in his high school education. “A huge part of my success career wise has been my ability to communicate and remain fluid in capability.”

Adulting is hard. Shella Moss, Class of 2014, experienced the difficult reality that you just have to figure out so much on your own. For her, personal finance was most challenging. “I honestly wish that there would have been a class or project to help you manage money. School debt, credit cards, car loans. How much to put into savings how much you should
Shella Moss
spend on groceries, how to coupon to save the most of your money, etc.! I have learned all this with time and have used online resources  to guide me in the right direction.” Shella is not the first student to make this remark, and in response to this feedback, we have recently added a Personal Finance course for seniors and it has been very well received.

My takeaways from these student comments are very much that they seem to point towards a skill set that combines the best of all worlds. We need to strive towards a future where content fluency is balanced with flexibility. We need to continue to equip students with the communication skills and approach to challenging situations that will allow them to navigate them well and succeed. Last, we need to do everything we can to help students realize that high school is a “practice run” for adult life, but it is, at best, a poor simulation of reality.

In the end, though, Mason advises that it will work out for the person who approaches the workforce with the right mindset. “As far as careers go, all I can say is DON'T PANIC. Employers expect a learning curve for entry level positions.”

Being ready may, in fact, be a relative term. College and career readiness may, in truth, be a paradox. There may be no such thing as ever being truly ready. But alas, it will come. When it does, we hope that the skills we work on in high school are the right ones for the workforce of the future.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

It’s “Element”ary, but it’s Middle School Math




By: Trisha Burns
CSA Central-Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN
@BurnsTrisha

As a math teacher, I feel the same pressure that other math teachers feel when it comes to high stakes, standardized testing. No, testing isn't the only think that I focus on. I want my PBL students to develop employability skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and to have a growth mindset. However, similar to any other teacher, I have to focus on the math standards the state of Indiana says all eighth graders should know and will be tested on before the end of the year. 

So starting back in the summer, when we begin to think about projects and planning, I knew that I wanted to review the critical standards (scatter plot, Pythagorean theorem, slope-intercept form, computation word problems) I had already taught students earlier this year and focus my time on solving equations standards.  In science, it was time for the students to begin learning their chemistry standards.  So after some brainstorming, we decided to do the project, It’s “Element”ary. This project was done last year as a science/English integrated project, so it needed to be adapted/modified to make it a math/science project. Last year students created lessons or “ learning experiences” for elementary students which had to relate to the “hot” topic they chose in their research. The English part of the project that we took out this year was an individual research paper on a current science topic in the news. 


The problem the students defined at the beginning of the project was elementary classes don’t always have the amount of time they would like to have to teach science.  Most of the elementary day is focused on languages arts and math skills, which limits teachers from spending time implementing some of the interesting and fun aspects of teaching science.  Mr. Paswater, a teacher at Taylorsville Elementary sent the students a video where he discussed his daily schedule and some of his time limitations. Then after students discussed their memories of science, they decided they wanted to make sure elementary students got to experience the fun, educational science they remembered having as students.  The students had to find ways to give these experiences outside the normal school day.
The students began to individually look through the Indiana standards for elementary science and completed a tournament bracket with their favorite standard in each grade level.  After they had individually chosen their favorite standards, they took a survey on their top and second choice of topics. This is the process we used to choose groups.  Their groups would need to design a 10-15 minute science lesson plan that would teach the students the science standard while giving the elementary students the best demonstration/learning experience for the topic they chose. For the complete solution criteria, you can check out our rubric.

As far as the content introduction, we had them play Periodic Table Scrabble.  This helped them become familiar with how to read a periodic table and learn what the different symbols meant. I wanted to be able to add some math review to the worksheet so, I had them find percents of solids, liquids, gas, radioactive, and artificial substances.  This helped them review how to find a percent to prepare them for the multi-step computation word problems, which are a critical standard for Indiana.  Then after they created a word in the scrabble game, they used the Pythagorean Theorem to find the diagonal of the blocks they used to create their word.  This wasn’t needed for the project at all, but it was a small place I found to review another critical standard.  

While the students were creating group contracts and deciding what they wanted their “science experience” to look like for the elementary students, myself and the science facilitator separated content workshops.  While the students were balancing chemical equations and learning the basics behind Chemistry in science class, we also reviewed and continued to build on our understanding of equations in math.  So although the equations weren’t a direct necessity for the project’s final product, it was great for the students to see the similarities in the two classes through both the vocabulary and the steps to balance equations.  In fact, I’m going to say that this was the first year that most students caught on and began using words like “coefficient,” “variable,” and “constant” while talking about solving equations in math.  

Some groups knew from the very beginning what experience they wanted to develop; however, some groups needed more scaffolding. So we had those groups research the different options that would effectively teach the standard they had agreed to when we grouped them by their topic of interest.  Then they created a decision matrix to decide what would be the best experience to teach the specific science standard. 
Presenting science lessons with
 students in an
after school program.

Part of their solution criteria for the project was to conduct an in-class experiment that created the BEST experience possible for the elementary students based on collected and analyzed data. The groups had to create a proposal for us to approve with their synopsis of what they wanted their experience to be and what experiment they were going to do in class to help create the best experience possible.  This was a great review of their science experiment standards, which we had covered earlier in the year.  Students thought of all kinds of experiments to do! A couple of my favorites they came up with were for a moon phase demonstration using Oreos. They experimented with how long different Oreos hold form when dipped in milk. They wanted to make sure they used the most durable Oreos when doing their moon phase demonstration for the elementary students.  Others tested which parachute created the most drag for their remote control car. Another group measured the time it took for density cubes being dropped from different heights to sink in oobleck, a substance made of cornstarch and water. (Oobleck is an substance that acts like a liquid, and can be poured, but that acts like a solid whey you apply force to it by pushing it or squeezing it.) They had to make sure their experiment would have two pieces of numerical data, so they could make a scatter plot, find a line of best fit, and make predictions based on graph.  They learned their manipulated variable would become their independent variable and their responding variable would become their dependent variable.  This was a perfect time for us to review how to graph a line, how to write an equation of a line of best fit, and how to use graphs to make predictions.  Here is a sample of the math paper the students had to complete after their experiment.

During science workshops and while the students were conducting experiments, they worked on the chemistry behind their experience.  Each group was required to complete a science paper by the end of the project about the chemical composition of the items utilized in their experience.  They had to include items such as where the elements were found on periodic table, the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons, the electron configure model, the dot diagram and an ionic or covalent bonding drawing.

Focus groups testing out the
science lessons. 
We use UDL (Universal Design for Learning) as our instructional framework in our district.  We had a UDL facilitator for an elementary school in the district come give the students a crash course in teaching lessons to elementary students.  The students had to brainstorm and then show evidence in their lesson plan as to “WHY” the information they were teaching the students was important to them as elementary students, “WHAT” they were going to teach (using multiple representations), and “HOW” the elementary students were going to be able to express that they learned what they were supposed to.  While the UDL facilitator was there, she met with some groups and gave individual feedback on their lesson ideas.

Once the groups had created their lesson plans, and they were approved by either myself or the science teacher, they needed time to practice and teach their lessons in front of a focus group.  We used 8th graders for some focus groups, but for some we used 6th grade students who came to our building to tour and see our program in action.  

The students had a choice on their community partner, so we had groups going at different times on different days.  Since their final presentation for elementary students were so spread out (at almost a month between the first and the last group), we had plenty of content workshop times to continue to review and develop our skills needed to master the critical standards.  In fact, to keep the theme of the project during content workshop days, I gave different groups of students different topics and had them create a 5 minute lesson plan to teach their math topic to the rest of the class using the principles of UDL they had learned in the project.

Students present science lessons
at the Boys & Girls Club.
I figure before the end of this project, over 100 elementary students will have a data-driven experience that was designed by these 8th grade groups.  Some groups went to the local Boys and Girls Club Friday night program to teach their science standard through an engaging experiment.  Other groups went to an after-school program at the neighboring elementary school. Other groups were able to go to the elementary school during the day to give their lesson and provide a science experience.  I would say overall this project was a success since I know 100% of my students can confidently answer the driving question: How can we give elementary-aged students a data-driven, engaging science experience?

I often get asked how I find projects that connect to the math content that I teach.  I wish I could say I have an idea for 100% of my content, but I don’t...yet.  However, you just need to keep your eyes open!  We tell our students that math is everywhere and that they will need it their whole lives.  As math teachers, we need to believe this too.  The math is there; we just need to find it!