Sunday, December 30, 2012

Authentic Learning: It Can Be Done

The final slide for all of my workshops has the same ending: "What CAN you do?"

I put this because "we can't do this in public school" or "my kids could never do this" is too cliche to put onto a slide.  

Joking aside, I do hear those negative thoughts often and I want to spark a change in ideology.  I ask educators in my workshop to take the "we can't do this" and throw it out.  If we only spoke of things we couldn't do, there will never be change.  

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been passed in 45 of the 50 states and for those of you not in education, these are a set of learning standards that states have created so that no matter what state you are in, students will be on the same page.  So if a 4th grader moves from Massachusetts to Oregon in the middle of the year, there will not be different standards the student will be held to.  In my teacher opinion, I like it.  It levels out a playing field on paper.  At the end of the day though, teachers are still behind the helm, and the standards do not define how teachers should teach.  Which is both an exciting and frightening thing all at the same time.

Those teachers who say they can't are going to have a different looking classroom than the teacher who says they can, even if they are both teaching about prepositions or mixed fractions.  One of the major pushes from CCSS is to create authentic learning; take the standards and build deeper meaning.  One of the new sayings is that instead of taking learning a mile wide and a foot deep, now we are going a foot wide and a mile deep.  This means we no longer are just looking for surface level learning for students, but rather deeper learning through higher order questioning, connections throughout content, and authentic experiences.  This does not mean just make it harder, it means make it more meaningful and provide the support to get there.  Ultimately, we are making our students college and career ready (CCR as the cool kids call it).

Recently, Dr. Jones (@drvcjones on Twitter) and I had the opportunity to offer our Ron Clark Academy 7th graders a great authentic learning experience with our second annual Math Mall Marathon.  We take our students to Lenox Mall in Atlanta and students travel throughout the mall to complete math challenges based on different stores, items, and parts of the mall.  To prepare for this, we go to individual stores and get permission, and we find which stores are more accommodating then others.  Big thanks to Dr. J. for doing so much prep work this year without me in Atlanta!  From there, we create challenging questions that involve critical and cooperative thinking.  For example, students have to travel to the currency exchange kiosk and based on current exchange rates, figure out the following:

Go to Travel Ex.  Pretend you have $1000.  You want to buy something for 395 pounds.  How much money in US dollars would you need?

Now take that dollar amount and convert it into Yen.

Or this problem:

(   UNSCRAMBLE and then go to the following store:

H  S  A  P  C  M

Find the jersey numbers for the following players: Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Al Harford and Carmelo Anthony.  Solve the equation based on their jersey numbers:

(Rose x Anthony)³ – Bryant ÷ Durant - Horford²

These are just a sample of the 20+ problems students could solve in the two hours they had.  It was exciting, fast paced, and the students were learning!  Each team had two to three students and a parent chaperone (though they were not allowed to help) and in the end, Dr. J. and I were impressed with how well the students did.

I want to bring up that Dr. Jones has been doing this activity for many many years, so she has done this with hundreds of students in numerous schools.  Any school, anywhere around the country can do this with the right preparation and dedication.  

Here are some pictures from the event:

Groups had to solve three challenge problems before they could set off around the mall.
 Dr. Jones discussing a problem with Derius and Mariah
 California Pizza Kitchen has food and math!
 Kalani, Natalie, and Terrell doing some algebra in Champs
 What's the best deal you can get taking a picture with Santa? 

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