[FocusOnBasics 823] Re: Project-based learning in GED

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AL aalba1 at cox.net
Mon Mar 19 21:00:55 EDT 2007

Hi All,

I am completing a Models Of Teaching course offered by the CEA. The
course is the second course of a three course sequence. Upon completing the
three courses you receive a Highly Qualified Educator's Certificate. Course
1, Operating in the Borderlands was instructed by Dr. Randall Wright. Course
2, Models of Teaching is instructed by Dr. Bill Muth. Both professors have
done a fantastic job. The relevance of the information for Correctional
Educators and Administrators is quintessential. The course has helped all
who have been actively involved in the course. The following article was
written for the course with respect to a problem based mathematics program I
am using in my class. The curriculum is the EMPower Mathematics program and
is available by Key Curriculum Press. The curriculum engages the students
by having them work in groups to solve problems and learn problem solving
strategies they can apply in their life. Also, as part of the Models of
Teaching course the cohort I was involved in wrote a paper on how teachers
can maintain their instructional role in the classroom. The report which
was generated from feedback from various listservs (including this one) and
will be posted at the CEA WIKI, correctional education, highly qualified
educators' link. I hope you find the report as great a value as each of us
who have participated in putting it together.

Sincerely, Albert Alba, PhD

I use the social constructivist approach to mathematics instruction. When
using the social constructivist approach the teacher needs to create an
instructional environment that fosters students to construct knowledge by
assimilating new knowledge through social interactions Social
constructivism recognizes that students can learn effectively when working
in small groups. A teacher needs to be constantly in tune with the
activities and learning of all the group members. The constructivist
research also has found that students learn most effectively when they are
actively involved in their learning. In addition, a teacher needs to
present students' material that is at a suitable level of difficulty.
Therefore, the material should be challenging but not overly challenging.
Vygotsky classified instruction at the forgoing level at the zone of
proximal development (Joyce, Weil, and Calhoon, 2004).

The materials selected also need to present students with real life
problems, not contrived. By students seeing real life problems the students
can recognize the relevancy to learning the material presented. Through
metacognition, students learn to reflect on their own thinking and self
monitor their thinking. Therefore, teachers need to practice think aloud
techniques which allow students to recognize how teachers are thinking and
self-reflecting on their thinking.

As a mathematics teacher I have been pilot testing for the State Of Rhode
Island, the Extending Mathematical Power (EMPower) instructional textbook
series. The series are designed to foster students' mathematical thinking
by engaging students in active problem solving. Students are involved with
independent and cooperative problem solving. The teacher's role using the
EMPower series is primarily as a facilitator, although some direct
instruction is also used. A teacher's resource book is also presented that
allows teachers to examine how to present the material, how to create a
classroom environment that promotes collaborative group work, and how to
assess students' knowledge. The teacher's resource book provides guidance
on how to make the lessons easier or more difficult based on students'
backgrounds A detailed explanation of the EMPower series can be found at
the following web site: http://adultnumeracy.terc.edu/EMPower_home.html.

The teacher is encouraged to show solutions to a problem using numerical,
graphical, pictorial, and written representations when feasible. Likewise,
students are encouraged to solve a problem with multiple strategies.
Students working in groups are also encouraged to display a summary of their
group work on newsprint. (Newsprint is a large sheet of paper). The
textbook series consists of whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percents,
proportions, geometry and measurement, algebra, and data and graphs.

In my class I will distribute a lesson packet to each student. I then break
students up into groups of 4-5. The reason I do not use groups of 2 is that
I want to make sure at least one student in each group is strong in
mathematics. If I had to break students into groups of 2, and neither
student enjoyed math nor are motivated to do math the results will be
detrimental. I also try to break the groups up heterogeneously based on
mathematics ability. The opening of the lesson is read aloud by a student.
I would then present to the class the general concepts to the lesson.
Students would then be either asked to do an activity as a group or
independently depending on the nature of the lesson. I monitor the groups
to make sure all students are participating. I will present open-ended
questions as needed to facilitate students' thinking or to make students'
rethink their thinking. If students were working independently, they would
be asked to check their work with their group members. I would then
randomly select a student from the group to explain the solution to the
problem. If a student does not know how to explain his answer he would be
asked to call on a lifeline, a member of his group for support. Students
are encouraged to help each other if they need assistance, but they must
explain how to solve the problem not just give an answer. Both the tutor
and tutee benefit from this communication. The student who is doing the
explanation must review his own thought processes when he is explaining to
the tutee. I will monitor what the tutor is saying to ensure the
instruction is correct. All students are asked to complete the unit exam
independently. The class then reviews the exam collectively. When a
student is called on he cannot just give me the answer he must explain how
he came up with the answer. Students are also encouraged to show multiple
strategies to solve a problem. Some questions require students to write out
their responses and to justify their response. As a teacher I will also
encourage dialogue on the math problems solved with respect to the relevancy
of the problem to students' lives. My students have found this method of
instruction of great value. The students enjoy working in groups in a
non-threatening atmosphere. The students also enjoy working with data and
problem tasks that are meaningful to them. By students using multiple
modalities in solving problems students gain a connection between multiple
representations. Through students' engagement in active problem solving
students are assuming the roles of applying math skills to solve math
problems as they would in real life. In conclusion, by students involved in
collaborative group work on mathematical problems that are relevant to
students' lives, students are motivated to learn mathematics and are
developing critical thinking and communication skills needed throughout
their lives. A lesson sampler of the Empower series can be obtained from
the Key Curriculum Press web site: www.keypress.com/x5153.xml.

-----Original Message-----
From: focusonbasics-bounces at nifl.gov
[mailto:focusonbasics-bounces at nifl.gov]On Behalf Of Julie McKinney
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2007 11:02 AM
To: focusonbasics at nifl.gov
Subject: [FocusOnBasics 820] Project-based learning in GED

Hi Everyone,

In response to last week's FOB Article-of-the-Week, a list member
recommended a good example of project-based work in a GED program, and I am
passing on this description of the project from the teacher. You can also
read about it in Volume 14 of "Field Notes" at the following link:

Using Authentic Materials in an ABE Writing Class
By David Stearns and Carey Reid

All the best,

Here is an account of the project from teacher Carey Reid:

"I've been asked to describe some project-based learning that David Stearns
and I (Carey Reid) developed in a preGED writing class at the Adult Learning
Program in Jamaica Plain (Boston), Massachusetts. David and I wanted to
push as hard as we could with authentic materials--ie, using newspapers,
journal articles, Webpages--in the classroom. We picked pieces of high
student interest based on oral surveys with the class: Jack Johnson, how to
discipline children, how to set up a living will. The Students would read
aloud the pieces taking turns with paragraphs. We noticed that after three
readings, two aloud and one more in small groups, just about every student
"got it," even with the most challenging articles. With unfamiliar
vocabulary, usually one student knew or could guess at the word; non-native
English speakers were pretty good with roots too (e.g., a Greek-born student
figured out that "virulent" had something to do with strength.)

Normally, we asked students to summarize pieces down to one paragraph in
small groups. Then, we'd class-edit for a "best composite summary." We
often provided several choices of scaffolding sentences to stimulate the
writing of a second paragraph (e.g., "I found this article interesting
because...", or "I agree/do not agree with this article because..."). As we
got more confident in students' (often underestimated) abilities, we pushed
the envelope toward more challenging pieces. We even brought in the FOB
article summarizing the learner persistence study, and they got that too.
In fact, their second paragraph was to report if any of the study's four key
supports for persistence applied to them. We used student sentences and
paragraphs as "authentic" materials for all grammar, mechanics, and
organization activities--e.g., sharing excerpts and asking peers to correct,
sometimes in whole class format, and required that they supply grammar
rules. As long as we didn't dema
nd an academic style rule, we found that somewhere in the room someone knew
the rule ("The sentences doesn't say the whole thing she meant.")

The next logical step was project-based learning. Our most successful one
unfolded this way. We read an article on a Boston city council election in
which blacks and Latinos turned out in big numbers and elected minority
candidates. The students wanted to know more about what a city councilor is
and does. We provided a GED-like essay activity that began with a provided
thesis statement scaffold: "The three most important duties of a Boston
City Councilor are...."

The students got excited about councilors in general and the new candidates
in particular and decided to invite them to our class. We decided to write
letters to the two Jamaica Plain councilors, so we did activities around
formal letter formats. Students group-wrote the letters in two groups and
we used a laptop and LCD projector to agree on a best composite draft.
Councilor Maura Hennigan accepted our invitation. Now we needed questions
to ask her, and that provided great activities for a couple of classes.
Now, each student had a question to ask (and some were doozies: "Why are
their potholes on my street and not in ------ where you live?")

David and I contacted the JP Gazette and asked the editor, Sandy Storey, if
the students could write a report on the visit. She agreed and sent a
photographer the night of. Maura came and did a great job, totally honest
("There are no potholes on my street because I'm a squeaky wheel. Do you
know that expression? Well, you need to be one to get your potholes
filled.") The students forgot to take notes, so David and I did and gave
them to them later. Eight learners took on the task of developing a draft;
we group-edited it with the LCD projector; we made the Gazette deadline and
the article was printed, with all the students' names as writers.

Another project was for a summer-term 6-week class with nine learners. We
surveyed and came up with a research topic, college financial aid. We set
up a project that evolved into computer keyboarding, search engine use,
narrowing searches, and note-taking from downloaded webpages. We thought
we'd be gathering information only, but some students noticed that almost
all the college sites emphasized coming in and talking to an admissions
counselor. So, we stopped and made up Action Plans, including making
appointments, finding directions, and taking notes. Two students had
followed through by summer's end and made oral reports to the class. One
enrolled in community college that fall, starting with their remediation

Moral of story #1: Assume you are underestimating the collective knowledge
and skill in your classroom.
Moral of story #2: Allow activities that "take off" to build into projects,
and let the projects evolve naturally based on students' energy and

My best,

Carey Reid
SABES Staff Developer

Julie McKinney
Discussion List Moderator
World Education/NCSALL
jmckinney at worlded.org

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