Envision Schools is committed to Project-Based Learning (PBL) and interdisciplinary work. Please visit our website for a more in depth description of our pedagogical stance towards deeper learning, 21st Century skills, and our Exhibition projects. Last year Envision Schools partnered with Puzzle School to design a web-based platform called Upside Down Academy. Early posts on this blog, as well as a soon to be published article in Unboxed, describe in detail how this tool played a central roll in one of our first math-based Exhibitions. As well, this was our first exploration into bringing Blended Learning into a PBL environment.
Blended Learning is characterized as a student based approach to learning, in which the use of technology can support individual student’s learning path and pace. We usually see this implemented in such a way that it focuses on skill acquisition. This is great. Learning specific discreet skills is an essential part of the education process. PBL, on the other hand, aims to engage students such that these discreet skills work in consort and generalize across domains. This is what builds the much needed critical thinking and meta-cognition, skills that we know are essential for success in today’s work force. This is a long way of saying, envisioning how PBL and Blended Learning mate can be a challenge.
Rather than wax philosophic I think I would like to share one of the projects that is happening at METRO right now. The 9th and 10th graders are working on a project of self-exploration that is bleeding into almost all of their classes. In Digital Media Arts they are creating silhouettes of themselves, using photoshop, that incorporate images of different things that represent them. In History the students studied political, economic and social structures and systems. They are creating visual webs that represent which systems they would uphold and which ones they would rebel against. In Science they are studying their circulatory and respiratory systems and are grappling with the concept of Homeostasis. In Math they are designing and graphing their own personal symbol that represents their place in all of the above. The project’s Essential Question is “Who am I in a complex world.”
I would like to take this opportunity to dive deeper into the Math portion of this project. This project allows students to work at their own pace by only introducing the tools and then letting students define what their outcomes would be. Also, access to technology and web 2.0 tools made what is usually a tedious and inflexible process, more fluid, visual, and problematized. For the Math portion of the project
the students first drew their personal symbols using graph paper.
While they were perfecting their personal symbol they got on Desmos and began manipulating and testing and playing. For homework they were given this:
And had to start thinking about how to gather all the information from the graph to represent it mathematically. Then they did the same with their own symbols.
This project engaged students in multiple ways, mathematically, artistically, and rhetorically. They could use Desmos to manipulate and copy features from existing designs, but ultimately they needed to establish an understanding of how the formulas change the outcomes. Lastly, students needed to think about how their symbol is reflective of their character and who they are within systemic complexity.