Setting an expert’s challenge in 3D (Issue 8, January 2011)

– Stepping outside the comfort zone with ‘launch assemblies’, 3D experiences and project learning.

Any teacher knows that getting students engaged in their subject is one of the most vital parts of education; in maths we are constantly searching for new ways to hook students in to the topics being taught in class.

When David Price and David Jackson visited the school earlier this term to discuss our involvement in the new Learning Futures project, I was inspired to turn what was an enquiry module of work into a project learning opportunity through which students could learn the importance of using data presentation to form an argument.

Project-based learning is an approach to enquiry in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, with any challenges being set by an expert in the field. The students engage in design, problem solving, decision making, and investigative activities. It allows students to work in groups or by themselves and allows them to come up with ideas and realistic solutions or presentations.

Our new module of work covering data handling is organized around the question of ‘Can we save the Planet?’ and was originally planned to involve a series of small tasks based on the effects of pollution. Having heard from the two visitors, I re-evaluated this and decided to be brave, step out of my comfort zone and try to develop our first real maths project.

Jackie Stent was able to put me in touch with Phil Tomlinson, the Divisional Energy Specialist for a large company in Ashington. I arranged a meeting with him to discuss the ways in which he could support the module of work. He was full of ideas to help; agreeing to launch the project through a letter to the students, and to view the work the students created to give them a real audience. We agreed to base the module around the recent Cancun meeting, where governments will meet to try to create a new Kyoto agreement, with each group of students being assigned a country’s data to work with.

I then had to decide how to launch the project to year eight in a way that would engage them. I decided to hold the first ‘Maths Assembly’ and booked the hub for the first lesson of the half term; but had to solve the problem of how to give it a hook! Having already identified a series of video clips to introduce students to the dangers of global warming, I tried to think of a way to go even further. Having seen the 3D screen in action for the school production of ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’, when a dancing alien joined in with the cast, I thought about making use of the 3D facilities to get the students thinking about the context of the project.

Graham Quince and I designed a 3D true or false quiz, which students would answer by showing hands in assembly. A variety of facts, designed to emphasise the severity of the problems our planet is facing, would fly out in front of students as they were flown around the planet we were discussing. Graham built this and agreed to help out on the day in making sure everything went to plan; a vital help, which I couldn’t have done without!

And so the day finally arrived. Having never led a school assembly before, I was more nervous than I had been since my NQT year! The students filed in, the excitement growing as they were handed 3D glasses upon their arrival.

Students were a little unsettled in the first assembly, but with small adaptations made to the running order the second assembly went much more smoothly and effectively. Students were desperate to wear the glasses; asking whether they should wear them for each bit of video. The enthusiasm they had for the task can be clearly seen and feedback from students has been extremely positive.

“I think that the 3D was amazing. I think we should do projects like this more often. ” – Luke, Year 8

There are still, however, further improvements to be made. I found it difficult to discuss the answers to questions during the excitement of 3D viewing; staff have suggested that they would like more time to discuss the questions and ideas promoted in the assembly when back in the classroom, which we will implement when the module next runs.

Only time will tell how the remainder of the project based learning goes, as we will be working on it for the remainder of this half term. The launch assembly brought this new maths project and the global issues it concerns, to the forefront of students’ attention; hopefully making all of the nerves worthwhile!

Ruth Christopher

 

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