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Monday, April 10, 2017

Project Ideas are Here, There, and Everywhere! By: Trisha Burns




Before we leave for the summer, our team gets together to review our curriculum map for the following year's integrated projects.  We make sure we know what standards are going to be matched with our team teacher during our 9 weeks of working together.  Then the fun begins!

The social studies teacher and I knew we would be matched third quarter, and he wanted to cover Westward Expansion.  I needed to cover word problems, Pythagorean Theorem, and review scatter plots and graphing lines.  We looked at each other confidently, smiled, and said we would figure it out. However neither of us were fully convinced we would have an authentic project that would include both sets of standards.

Fast forward to October when our school had a lock-in with break-out rooms.  In a break-out room, groups, in this case students, work together as a team to solve puzzles in order to escape the room within a set time limit.  I sent my soon to be co-teacher a text and said, “Break-out rooms could make a great project.” 

In late November my co-teacher and some of his friends went to Escape 812, a new local business that provides escape room experiences. They had one hour to solve the puzzles that would allow them to accomplish their task and escape the room. He came back from that experience and said it was a lot of fun, and maybe this is where we could find an authentic project.  We continued to research and began conversations with Escape 812’s owner about the possibility of creating a project around the design of break-out rooms for his business. 

Now it’s March 9. My co-teacher and I listen to Escape 812’s owner announce to all of our students that he was so impressed with their ideas. He tells them he is pleased to announce the launch of his third room will be compiled of their puzzle ideas for Westward Expansion! When he sorted through their packages he discovered:

  • An original room scenario using their literary devices from English class in addition to cited, historical research of their Westward expansion themed room
  • Three puzzles and solutions
  • A bill of materials
  • A return on investment graph
  • An argument using a cost versus complexity graph on why their room was his best choice

During the project students did an active exploration with the computer game, Lemonade Stand, to experience being a small business owner. They used scatter plots to predict their sales if the business were to continue. They also used the Pythagorean Theorem to prove why companies made more money by building the railroad using zigzags instead of building in a straight line. When it was all said and done, we not only covered our planned standards, but many more including English standards.

So how do you come up with a great project idea? Your first step is to know and be confident in your content.  You cannot convince your students that your content has real world applications until you are convinced.  Go through your standards. Think about who needs your content today, and why it is important for them.  Then look around your community. Listen to community radio, or read the newspaper.  Project ideas are everywhere. Are you willing to take risks? Where can you find connections? How will you make those connections?


Trisha Burns is an 8th grade math facilitator at CSA Central Campus in Columbus, Indiana. She is a certified teacher and trainer through the New Tech Network and certified through ICPBL for project-based learning in Indiana. She has taught in the classroom since 2009 and facilitates for Magnify Learning in the summer. When she is not developing and implementing projects in her class room she loves to hang out with her family and scrapbook their memories!



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