Last night, I saw this tweet from Dan,

that led me to John’s post about his recent experience with the Barbie Bungee activity. This is a great post, and there is a great discussion going on in the comments right now about how some activities can feel like a recipe and what we can do as teachers to change that. Most of my projects for my first two years were recipes, and I have been trying desperately this year to change that!

Until this year, I had no idea how engaging student wondering, student questions, and student creativity would be for the actual students. I had been reading about it via Dan’s blog any questions (#anyqs) and 3-acts. As a teacher, I know that every lesson needs a great hook to fully engage students. It was not until this summer however, that I actually got to experience this myself, as a student would, through Max’s “Wonderings” session at TMC12. Now, for me “the hook” is not only the hook I would have used before (something interesting to them via an article, multimedia,…), but it also involves student wonderings and questions. Since then I have observed that when students have time to wonder and develop their own questions, they become not only engaged but immersed in the activity. Just by me talking (and instructing) less, and letting them wonder more, my students have naturally become more engaged and interested in the math. They discover that they need to know more math to get to the next step, and this is when I give them instruction. It is instruction during the project as they need it, not before. Activities are projects are not afterthoughts, they are the lesson. When they need the math to figure out their own questions, they work harder and longer, and they actually care about what they are doing. When they create it, they own, and this is where I have seen them grow and learn the most!

I wanted to post this response on my my blog because I have touted the glory of the Barbie Bungee lesson. I posted just the facts, my “recipe”, but I now realize that I left the most important part of my lesson – emphasizing the wondering. With any activity, you have to be careful or it can end up just like a recipe. Looking back, the projects that I have done for the past two years in my classes have been mostly recipes. Since I experienced “wonderings” this summer, I work very hard to NOT let my activities develop as recipes. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. There is still so much I need to learn, and never enough time!

*For Barbie Bungee, I spent almost the entire first class period on “the hook”, “wonderings”, and student questions and creativity.* For the hook I showed them the Bungee Videos that they loved. I had them create their own Barbie Bungee Companies but gave them very little directions other than, “Brainstorm things a successful company needs.” From this they came up with company names, company slogans, and company goals. Their goals were like the “any questions” I was hoping that they would come up with, similar to what I have seen come from a “First Act”.

Only after they decided to give Barbie the biggest drop without killing her and started talking about how to estimate the number of rubber bands did I give them the instructions worksheet. I probably could have done this without the worksheet. But, I like that it had the Barbie Bungee slipknot instructions on it. I love to give middle school students opportunities to read and follow directions and knew that consistent results (from consistent rubber band knotting) would help us draw better generalizations in the end. Fawn is considering going without the worksheet next time around. I’ll see how that goes before I jump.

After collecting the data on the jumps, I did not have my students analyze the chart at all. Instead, I had them plot their data. When they did this, they noticed that it correlated and asked me how they could use this to make a better prediction. I instructionally guided them and reminded them of the line of best fit. This led them to their predictions for the test jump.

Another instructional opportunity came after the test jump. When their Barbies hit the ground or fell short, they wanted to know why, and where they had gone wrong. I encouraged them to put this new “test jump” on the data chart and on their graph. This is when many noticed that they needed to adjust their line. Almost every students second test jump was successful. In all of this we did not calculate, we just predicted.

The “BIG JUMP” (13 feet), was more like the beginning of an “Act 3″. Was their math correct? It was exciting because the students loved seeing the Barbies jump – and loved to see their math work! The finale was putting their data into the linear regression calculator, to see how many rubber bands they should have used and how close their predictions had come to the actual math.

I did not end this project with any giant math lesson. In fact, this entire project for me was to create more wondering about linear relationships for our NEXT project where we would need to learn how to do the calculations. Their wonderings were amazing. They wanted to know things like, if they could predict Barbie’s fall with a linear equation, what else out there could they predict? Does this work with anything else? Does this work with everything else? When does this not work? It has led to three subsequent projects and we are starting a fourth in the next week. In this, Barbie Bungee was not an activity in itself for my class, but the hook for all future linear equation work.

In a recent survey I gave my students, they said that they had the most fun with the Barbie Bungee activity, but that they learned the most “math” from our nutrition project (two projects later). That, to me, is progress.

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