Finding Meaning Through Projects and Themes


One of the unexpected pleasures of emerging from testing season with two months of time left is the fact that I’ve been encouraged to keep kids motivated through project-based learning.

What a breath of intoxicatingly fresh air. We know that creativity has less and less of a place in our elementary schools. The kids wear this knowledge on their sad little faces as they flop test prep packets onto the desk and fall asleep over highlighted pages of nothingness.

Our current literacy unit involves research. There are four groups in my class and each is responsible for a New York City landmark of their choice. I have three goals for the unit: 1) have students direct their own learning about the landmarks; 2) give them transferable skills; 3) keep them engaged and having fun.

So, while kids are doing research, they are also creating a mural. First, everyone in the class sketched their landmark, paying close attention to details. On a tri-fold board, I sketched general parameters for each image. Then, they each drew their picture on the board, creating a bit of a mosaic of New York City. Students used rulers and measurements to maintain neatness. They are also picking up some art skills as they mix the paints to create desired colors, learn effective ways to use a brush and paint small areas, and visualize how items must overlap in order to look the right way. Maybe most importantly, the mural involves a good amount of group work and cooperation that, for the moment, is more effective in art than in research.

Once the mural is finished, I will use it to extend our math unit, which is focused on multiplication and division. As an example, students will be asked to compute the number of windows in the Empire State Building on our mural (the windows are arrays, which is a current focus). They’ll be able to measure different elements on the mural and compute areas and perimeters. I’ll figure out a way to have them review fractions through the mural, too.

Until the mural is complete and ready for us to use it for math, we are working on multiplication and division in context, tying them to, what else, New York City? Word problems don’t say “Sally shared 21 cookies with 7 friends. How many did each friend get?” but they do say, “21 tourists got into 7 taxis. How many tourists got into each taxi?” They are motivated by the New York-centric theme and, if I do say so myself, I am seeing a nice output on their parts.

Given the license to go with projects, you better believe I’m going to drive with it. Students are getting their kicks and their concepts, and it’s phenomenal.

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2 responses to “Finding Meaning Through Projects and Themes

  1. Pingback: Remainders: Confusion surrounds state test grading this year | GothamSchools

  2. I’m keeping my AP Calculus students busy using projects, too. Here’s the list of projects from which they get to choose.

    AP Calculus Project List

    • Collage: create a collage or collection of images related to calculus. Images can be hand drawn, printed, or clipped from a magazine or newspaper. Minimum collage size is 11” x 17”. Maximum size is 24” x 36”. Must be laminated.
    • Comic Strip Poster: create an illustrated comic strip poster covering one or more topics in calculus. It should be no smaller than 11” x 17” and laminated for durability. Maximum size is 24” x 36”.
    • Crossword Puzzle Poster: create a crossword puzzle poster to review definitions of at least 50 calculus vocabulary words. It should be no smaller than 11” x 17”. Maximum size is 24” x 36”. Must be laminated.
    • Board Game: create a board game where students review calculus concepts. Game play should be based around answering review questions correctly. Minimum board size is 12” x 12”, maximum is 24” x 24”, however, it must fold into a 12” x 24” size. Board must be laminated or of durable material. All accessories must be durable as well.
    • Flash Cards: create at least 50 flash cards helpful for study and review of AP Calculus AB. Minimum card size is 2½” x 3½”. Max is 5” x 7”. Must be laminated with smooth, rounded edges.
    • Murals: create a mural or a large drawing of many images related to calculus. Consider depicting the evolution of calculus, or the different contributions made by various regions in the world. Must be laminated.

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