PBL Week 2 – Struggling/Straggling

Week 2 of our PBL unit was not quite as promising as Week 1.  We alternated between some straight geometry lessons (reflections and translations) and beginning to formalize the presentations.  My challenges as a teacher are two-fold:  first, to make sure that these students are actually learning some geometry (3 of them – high school juniors – asked me where the y-axis was this morning), and that they are making progress on the final product.  The class includes a spectrum of learners – there are students who understand the material as it is presented to them, can work independently, and even keep a project moving in a group.  At the other end of the range, besides my students who don’t know where the y-axis is (I did not think I needed to check on that prior knowledge, but the more you teach, the more you learn you can’t assume ANYTHING), I have students who want to check every bit of progress, every image they find, every decision on their presentation with me.  I have been having success, happily, at redirecting the students to their groups.

There is one group in the class (self titled the “Yokels”) that was operating (or not) very dysfunctionally last week.   They have a strong female anchor – a young woman who, while not the best academician, is very motivated to do well, and willing to do the work.  The three boys she is grouped with are all quiet, but all workers with good attendance (a big plus in this early morning class).  When I created that group, I thought they would be the Dream Team.  Not so.  Every time I walked by, one of them would be looking only at his notebook, another would be writing down notes from Wikipedia, and the girl lead would be angrily trying to produce a draft of SOMETHING on paper.  I gave them several nudges last week, and finally sat down with them this morning.  Again, no one wanted to talk except Dora (name changed).  “They won’t talk,” she said, “they won’t do anything.”  And no one answered, sort of supporting her claim.  We went over the list on the board of what should currently be included in their presentation, and luckily, there were exactly 4 items on the list.  I asked them who would take on each task, and they each volunteered for one, and then began working.  Dora is collating all the work into one app.  So a plus for PBL and groupwork.

The drafts I saw today are in various stages of completion, but every group had something to show me.  Attendance is a big issue – two of the groups had members absent who were responsible for major chunks of work.  I intended to share some progress work on the SmartBoard – even purchased my own VGA adapter for that purpose – but checking in with each group and the intervention with the Yokels left about 4 minutes in the period.  So I am worried that I will not be able to bring this project to completion in a reasonable amount of time – I need to leave at least 2 weeks at the end of the term to go over some new content.

The task of moving things forward feels Sisyphean, even on a good day like today.   I would like to do this with a higher track class, just to see how extra student motivation impacts the process in terms of depth of learning, meeting deadlines, and quality of product.  Sadly, I can do this project in this particular class, because no one in administration is paying attention or expects these students to actually succeed in math beyond earning a 65.  I am hoping that sharing their work and celebrating it will give them the feeling of efficacy they deserve,, and that the process of the project will deepen their understanding and appreciation of transformations.

More to come – sorry no pix.

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