BOX 9.1 Bringing Real-World Problems to Classrooms
Children in a Tennessee middle-school math class have just seen a video adventure from the Jasper Woodbury series about how architects work to solve community problems, such as designing safe places for children to play. The video ends with this challenge to the class to design a neighborhood playground:
Students in the classroom help Christina and Marcus by designing swingsets, slides, and sandboxes, and then building models of their playground. As they work through this problem, they confront various issues of arithmetic, geometry, measurement, and other subjects. How do you draw to scale? How do you measure angles? How much pea gravel do we need? What are the safety requirements?
Assessments of students’ learning showed impressive gains in their understanding of these and other geometry concepts (e.g., Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1997). In addition, students improved their abilities to work with one another and to communicate their design ideas to real audiences (often composed of interested adults). One year after engaging in these activities, students remembered them vividly and talked about them with pride (e.g., Barron et al., 1998).