Posted in NCPTS - Standard 5, NCPTS Standard 3

If you had a million dollars…? Starting The Year With Project-Based Learning

As the new school year quickly approaches I am planning on picking up where I left off last year with a project that can be found at Hoonuit. This project focuses on math and technology integration.

The project is called, The Million Dollar Classroom and students are given a million dollars to design the classroom of their dreams. They must also design a spreadsheet and graph to display how they distributed the money. The math in this project mostly deals with whole number or decimal operations. The students do little of the math since they enter formulas into the spreadsheet and the calculations are done for them. However, what the students are exposed to is working with large amounts of money and determining the best way to spend it. This is something that is new to many of them and I heard many of them say repeatedly that they had money left over and didn’t know what to do with it. I laughed to myself at this because as a teacher I could have easily spent any remaining money they had in a matter of minutes. 

It might seem like a big task to take on a project like this in the beginning of the year, but my experience from last year showed me that this will help me establish the kind of atmosphere I want in my class. I want to establish a student-led classroom where they make choices about the work they do and how they do it. I also want to bring more communication and collaboration to the class by having them work on projects like this in groups.

I chose this project towards the end of the year as a way to provide some variety to the usual nonstop review we do before the end of grade tests. While the students were working, I took notes on what issues they had, how we solved them, and what I would do differently the next time. Below is an overview of what I did last year and what I plan on doing this year.


Million Dollar Classroom

Last Year

Individual – Students each did their own individual project

I chose to do it this way, so I could do math review with individual students or small groups. By having them each do individual projects, the review would not interfere they way it would if they did the project in groups.

Classroom Location – The classroom must be built in North Carolina.

Classroom Purchase – The classroom can be rented, bought, or built.

Teacher Salary – Teachers’ Salaries were based on North Carolina state averages. Students could chose to have more than one teacher or assistant to a class.

Class Size – Class sizes can be based on the North Carolina state averages or can be up to the discretion of the students. Many chose to make the class size well below the state average (8-10 students).

Final Presentations – Presentations were given in front of the class and school administration.

This Year

Group Work – Students will work in groups of 4 or 5

I want students to discuss and debate how they think the money should be spent. I think this will provide a real world aspect into how school budgets are discussed, debated, and voted for or against.

Classroom Location – Same as last year

Classroom Purchase – Same as last year

Teacher Salary – Same as last year

Class Size – Class sizes must be similar to the state average with only a difference of 2 students more or less than the average.

Final Presentations – In addition to their classmates and school administration, my principal and I have invited several city council members to speak to the students at the start of the project to give their insight on budgeting, voting, and how money is spent. We also plan on inviting them back to see some of the finished project presentations. As of today, August 8th, we have one council member that will be coming to speak in early September.

As I stated earlier, I hope this project will help to establish a more student-led classroom with a collaborative and respectful atmosphere.  I am very excited about bringing the community into the classroom by inviting members of city council and the board of education. I think this will provide the students with a real world connection and a greater understanding of the big picture when it comes to classrooms, schools, and school districts.

Posted in NCPTS - Standard 4, NCPTS Standard 3

Using Jacob’s Ladder with song lyrics

As a music major, I try to incorporate various aspects of music into the class. One idea I had from a PD session at school was creating our own Jacob’s Ladder to song lyrics.

I started using the ladders this year with song lyrics as a way to help students with theme. Determining the theme of a story, poem, song, etc. is a concept that students struggle with when studying larger novels, short stories, and especially poetry.  I thought  with a shorter 3 or 4 minute song it might make it easier before moving on to harder text.

The biggest problem I had with this was that my taste in music is usually different than my 10 year old students. So far this year, I have only used songs that I selected, but I might open this up next year to having students choose some songs and develop ladders around them.

This idea first came to me last year when we did The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. The story is set in a middle school in Long Island during the 1967-68  school year. Topics such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War come up throughout the story and I was looking for ways to teach about these topics and show the emotional impact they had then and now. I was a big Billy Joel fan growing up (still am) and was in high school when his Storm Front album was released. The song Leningrad immediately came to mind and I played it for the class and we discussed the lyrics.  This year I decided to create a ladder based on the lyrics. The other song I played at the end of the novel was Goodnight, Saigon.  I was a little hesitant about this because of some of the lyrics (Playboy and hash pipe), but this really did not come up at all in our discussion. I made a ladder for this to go along with the novel and give us more focus in our discussion.

The Storm Front ladder is something I use as a way to introduce the music and lyrics of Billy Joel to the class.  I also use it as a way to discuss theme. I remember when I first heard this song I took it in the literal sense and thought it was strange that he would be writing about going out fishing.  It wasn’t until I heard an interview when he explained the metaphor behind it. The urge to shrug off stability and ride off into a storm despite the dangers. I realize my students might not get this concept, but at least it gets them thinking on a higher level.