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Healthy Risk?
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Combating Apathy
12/15/2011
My twitter account directed me to this blog post from Jim Moulton of Edutopia discussing the growing issue of student apathy in high schools around the nation. Moulton's main message to educators is to help students connect to the material they are learning by finding a real problem that matters to kids and studying it.



Moulton charges each teacher to identify a place-based, project-based opportunity in the community. This week, Lindsay Brown's('01) Algebra 1 class was doing exactly this type of project with its Beanie Baby Bungie Plunge.



Engaging Proctor students is rarely an issue largely because teachers adhere closely to the notion that higher order learning occurs when students truly 'own' the content they are studying. For this particular Algebra 1 class, the process of ownership began Monday when students calculated the 'stretchiness', or elasticity, of 4 inch rubber bands with the understanding that this ability to stretch represented the rate (distance per rubber band) at which the Beanie Baby would drop.



Once the students had their slope ('m' variable) and y-intercept ('b' variable) to the linear equation, y = mx + b, each group of students began feverishly determining how many rubber bands (the X variable) would allow their small stuffed toy to drop from the fourth floor balcony in the Fowler Learning Center atrium (the Y variable).



Through the completion of practice problems related to the task at hand, like determining how many rubber bands it would take to complete a bungy jump from a 42 meter bridge in New Zealand, students began to realize why Algebra is so important.



As each group's Beanie Baby made the plunge over the railing, it became clear which groups had generated an accurate equation. The first group that dropped came within three feet of hitting the floor, while the second group's Beanie Baby was well over 25 feet shy of its destination. Ultimately, the "Rabbit" Beanie Baby came within inches of hitting the floor on its second 'jump' and was declared the winner by volunteer judges Seth Currier and Anna Hanlon of the Technology Department.



During the post-activity debriefing session, students discussed their strategies for solving the linear equation most effectively (the winner's equation happened to be y = 5x + 5 using approximately 93 rubber bands), and Lindsay made sure students understood why some groups were successful and others were not. The correlation between preparation and accurate formulas was unsurprisingly strong!



While these activities often take substantial planning and organization on the part of the teacher, the learning that takes place is undeniable. The blog from Edutopia linked above begs the following questions of us as educators: How can we best engage our students in the material they are learning? How can we get them to care not only about learning the material, but about applying it to their lives?



When I think about myself as a learner, Moulton's comments ring true, "For any of us, whether student or teacher, child or adult, to do our best, to achieve our highest potential, we have to care. Had you not cared enough to try, you would never have accomplished the goal. Your amazing accomplishment began with caring." Project-based learning activities like the Beanie Baby Bungy Plunge serve as a tremendous opportunity to help our students learn to care about their own learning; a trait that makes our entire community a more effective learning environment.
Edutopia's blog post on combating student apathy discusses the need to create place-based, project-based learning opportunities.
Algebra 1 students engaged in such a project while studying linear equations this week.
By applying slope, y-intercept, and understanding x and y variables to a bungy jump example, students directly used prior learning to solving a 'real life' problem.
This type of project happens often in classrooms at Proctor, as teachers integrate problem-solving opportunities within our community into the classroom.
Thank you to the Algebra 1 classes for sharing your classroom with us this week!