By Jessie Smith
In addition to core classes, students at Memorial Middle School participate in a research course where they engage in cross-curricular project-based lessons that build 21st century skills. We focus on creating a student-centered classroom in which the teacher plays the role of a facilitator as opposed to a micromanaging direct instructor. As a math teacher, I enjoy finding ways of integrating math and science for research.
In my classroom, I do not give the children the answers, postulates, or theorems for the math they are working on. They must discover it for themselves through experimentation and observations in small groups. I’ve found that incorporating performance tasks into my lessons are a great way to facilitate this kind of learning.
Here are three engaging project-based performance tasks that integrate math and science:
1) Break the Triangle
For this lesson, we started by discussing shapes and their relation to architecture. Students used a geometry interactive site and manipulated triangles to come up with rules explaining how the angles and sides were related to each other, and discover what combinations could and could not work. Students love technology, so I try to incorporate it by having the students utilize online research resources.
The next day, we tried to disprove each other’s rules. Through this activity, the students found the Triangle Sum Theorem and the Triangle Inequality Theorem for themselves. It was fun for the kids, but more importantly, they own the information and they still know it. Mere memorization would never have been as effective.
2) Backpack Design
My students begin every performance task by breaking down the individual products and determining their end goal. From there, they make a graphic organizer to break down all the required steps needed to get from the idea stage to the finished product. During this time, they also create a timeline and assign different parts of the performance task to students on the team.
This year, students engaged in the Backpack Design performance task from Defined STEM. They had to come up with actual designs and create either a hard or a virtual model of their idea. This was easy to incorporate mathematics into. The students had to calculate area and volume of their backpacks. They also had to consider fabric stresses and use formulas that determine those stress factors. We incorporated economics into the lesson, too: they were asked how they could make a profit and still have the vision that they had started out with. I noticed students’ creativity really shined during this project. Each group had a different backpack designed for a unique audience. For example, one group made a backpack for new mothers, and another group designed one for children with disabilities. It was a wonderful learning experience for all.
3) Manufacturer: Assembly Lines
Although the performance task, Manufacturer: Assembly Lines, was slow to start, it turned out to be one of the best! We were able to adjust the lesson and tie it to a local, real-world example that students could connect with. My goal was to get students to understand how a factory works and what it takes to run one, build one, and see the economic impact it has on a city.
We took a field trip to a local corrugated box factory where they spoke with the plant manager. There, they got to see the factory in action, which helped them connect the dots from what we talked about in the classroom to the real world.
Back in the classroom, I challenged students to create plans to attract a company to open a plant right here in Conyers, GA. They considered what type of manufacturer would be a good fit, researched suitable sites, discovered zoning laws, used math to create a design for their plant, and dove into the impact manufacturers have on the local environment. They weighed the pros and cons when considering if the trade-off in jobs was worth the possible damage to the environment. They learned so much about how businesses work and the technology involved in production while getting an inside look at a handful of careers they can pursue.
Jessie Smith is a 7th-grade math teacher at Memorial Middle School in Conyers, GA.