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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
812-856-8027

Last modified: Wednesday, June 6, 2007

IU holds a weeklong workshop to ready math teachers for project-based learning

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 6, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A group of 20 U.S. math teachers are taking their first steps toward building a "new tech" curriculum during a workshop going on this week at the Indiana University School of Education in Bloomington. "Project-based Algebra for the 21st Century Student" continues through Friday.

Teachers from Texas and Indiana are studying project-based learning as a methodology for mathematics instruction. Project-based learning is the concept on which "new tech high schools" are based, emphasizing use of subject matter toward a project goal. While technology is a tool to help learning, the project is the primary focus of the method.

"The focus is on learning whatever you're learning in a context," said Catherine Brown, associate dean for research and development and professor of mathematics education, who is overseeing this week's workshop.

Seven Indiana school corporations are planning to implement a new tech school within the next two years. New tech schools will open in the Indianapolis Public Schools, the Metropolitan School Districts of Decatur and Perry Townships in Marion County, Monroe County Community School Corporation, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, and the Rochester Community School Corporation.

The governor's office is coordinating a grant from the National Governor's Association to support implementation of the new tech high model in Indiana. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Leadership at the University of Indianapolis is developing a statewide New Tech High Network to help the process. The Center for Research and P-16 Collaboration in the School of Education is a partner in the New Tech High Network.

School of Education researchers who visited new tech school models in California said mathematics is the most challenging for implementing project-based learning. "So our first goal is really to get the math teachers here in Indiana to think about what would project-based learning look like in algebra." Brown said.

Throughout the week, participants will examine the basis of project-based learning, and then develop the structure for a year-long algebra curriculum. The workshop ends with a Friday presentation, when each teacher presents a unit developed in accordance to state standards to use in their algebra classrooms.

The instructor for the week is the former math teacher for New Tech High School in Napa, Calif. Megan Pacheco is now the senior school development coach for the New Technology Foundation, an organization that promotes and supports the implementation of the new tech high school model. Pacheco says new tech schools will better prepare students for the future.

"Technology's just one aspect of it," she said. "It's collaboration skills. It's writing skills. It's communication skills. Critical thinking skills. And so we teach all of those skills in addition to our subject area. So we're trying to give them more of the 21st century skills that we know they need to be successful in life."

Pacheco told algebra teachers Monday that project-based learning also eliminates one of the age-old problems for math teachers: Answering student questions about how they'll use such knowledge in the "real world."

"The projects are designed to engage students in the real world applications of math," Pacheco said. "So they automatically see the connections between the math they're learning and the real world." Pacheco said some geometry classes might design a school building to learn about area and perimeter, while an algebra class might predict how high a rocket might fly for a rocket-launch competition. "The trick is," she said, "to find something that's engaging for the students and shows them how the concepts are applied."

Brown hopes this is the first of an annual series of workshops as Indiana continues to build new tech schools. She expects a course on teaching geometry to be offered next, and can foresee regular summer institutes on project-based learning at the School of Education.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Pacheco says project-based learning makes the "real-world" value obvious:

"The projects are designed to show students the real-world applications of math. So, they're doing projects where they're presenting to the community. They're working on real-life scenarios. So, they automatically see the connections between the math they're learning and the real world."

Pacheco gives some examples of projects some math students might produce:

"In a geometry class they might be designing packaging for different goods and learning about volume surface area and that sort of thing. In an algebra class, they might be looking at doing a rocket competition and looking at how high a rocket might fly with quadratic equations and that sort of thing. We have them designing school buildings for the 21st century in geometry classes, so they're learning about area formulas and perimeter. So, lots of different ideas. The trick is to find something that's engaging for the students and shows them how the concepts are applied to the real world."

Pacheco says while technology is definitely part of "new tech" teaching, it's just a tool:

"Too often, I think our schools just prepare students for college. And what's left to the kids that aren't going to college? Or we're even finding that we're not preparing our students for college. So, we're trying to give them more of the 21st century skills that we know they need to be successful in life. So, that's not just technology. Technology's just one aspect of it. It's collaboration skills. It's writing skills. It's communication skills. Critical thinking skills. And so we teach all of those skills in addition to our subject area."

Brown says the term "new tech" school might mislead some:

"It's a bit of a misnomer because the real change is the use of project-based learning, which uses the technology as tools to help learning. But the focus is on learning whatever you're learning in a context—in a bigger problem, in a bigger project, that interconnects the subjects that you're learning."

Brown describes the goals of the week-long workshop:

"So our goal is really to get the math teachers here in Indiana to think about what would project-based learning look like in algebra? Given the push on algebra, the need for all students in Indiana to complete algebra, what would it look like if we did it a different way? How would students learn differently? What would the role of the teacher be? Can you—quote, unquote—cover the standards that you need to in the time that you have? Those are all things we'll be exploring this week with the teachers who are here."

Brown says this could be the first of continuing new tech workshops:

"But I could see something more general where we might run regular summer institutes that would be about project-based learning. So teams from schools could come and work together to think about how to best help the kids using this avenue."