If you've read any of my writing on education, you already know something about how I think teaching should be done. If you haven't, here's the short of it: The testing machine that is our education system is conducive to programming robots, not educating people, but since that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon, it falls on the teacher to think of creative ways to encourage genuine problem solving while still fostering the ever-so-highly-valued exam-taking skills.
My goal this year has been to make my geometry classroom look more like my computer science classroom. A number of factors are goading me to maintain the run-of-the-mill, Regents-focused, common-core- and common-assessment-aligned Geometry syllabus, but my will is set on disrupting the norm with something hands-on, memorable, or perhaps even... (brace yourself) worthy of making a student say "I like geometry."
A project that is successful in that regard must embody at least three principles:
- It must require student choice. More is better.
- It must resemble a real life application.
- It must be an end in itself. To superimpose exam questions on the project content is to dilute the meaning of the project itself and redirect the students' attention back to the very falsehood we meant to avoid in the first place: an exam is the ultimate end and indicator of success.
This year, I've come up with the "Geometric Dwelling" project.
In this project, students form teams as large as seven to build a model dwelling (apartment, condo, or house). Each student must build his or her own room and no more than one room. After planning in school and constructing at home, the rooms must be brought to school and fit together. In this way, building a dwelling requires precise measurements and planning. Furthermore, a dwelling must satisfy the following requirements (presumably set forth by an imaginary "client")
- Every room must be connected to at least two other rooms.
- The dwelling must exhibit symmetric beauty in every room. For instance, rotational or reflective symmetry.
- Every dwelling must have a bathroom. The bathroom must be the smallest room in the dwelling.
- Every dwelling must have at least one bedroom.
- Every dwelling must have a room that is not a bedroom, kitchen, or bathroom. (Examples include: family room, sitting room, living room, swimming pool room, band practice room...)
- Every dwelling must have exactly one kitchen/kitchenette. The kitchen must be smaller than another room (but not the bathroom.)
- Every room must have at least one piece of furniture, built to scale.
- The overall appearance of the house should be consistent.
Finally, to support the team's design choices, each member of the team must submit a written justification of the symmetry exhibited in the dwelling. Here are some actual student responses.
For scoring, students were graded on four criteria. If you would like more detail on the rubric, please refer to the assignment website:
Connections – The doorways of every room that this individual's room is adjacent to are aligned with the doors of this room.
Walls – Every room that this individual's room is adjacent to is flush both in height and width.
Theme - Each individual's room is skillfully made. It is clear it was not rushed. It embodies the theme and a justification is precise.
Design - This part of the rubric is scored as a group. Students may score a '5' when all dwelling requirements are met and the scale of the furniture is satisfactory.
Overall, I was immensely satisfied with the execution of this project. Students were very actively engaged while planning their dwelling and individual responsibilities. Groups were huddled together in patches throughout the classroom and many groups were using whiteboard space to draft a blueprint. Because this was the first year I implemented the project, I also collected feedback from my students on their experience. In general, feedback was positive, with students citing an appreciation for collaboration and the chance to work over the course of multiple days. I have included photos of student work an both positive and negative quotes below: