I believe that I have written about this before but I wanted to give a detailed description of the project or “big assignment” that I give in all of my math classes.
The title for everyones project can be “Why Do I Need To Know This?”
As a teacher I have heard my students utter those words so many times that it is a kind of therapy to give them an assignment with that title. I allow them to work in groups or as singles and if there is time in the semester and the class is the right size, I also like to have them give a presentation.
They are to find some real world application for a topic covered in that course and they write a paper about it and give a presentation (whenever possible).
I do this for a couple reasons:
1) I want my students to have a solid answer to the questions “Why do I need math?” or “When will I ever use this?”. If they are forced to study one area where they would use it in their daily lives I believe it will open the door to notice all of the times that they really do use math in their daily lives.
2) Writing a paper is something that students may not like, but they seem to be pretty sure that they can do it. Many of my students come into the classroom thinking that they will do miserably at every aspect of the math class. When they hear that a paper and presentation will be a percentage of their grade it often gives them confidence that they will be able to do at least one part of the class without too much difficulty.
3) Being the person that can give the presentation will often be the thing that will catch a manager’s eye. For this reason I think it is important for students to give as many class presentations as possible. I take the time to get my students to work together on problems in class so that they know as many people in the room as possible. I tell them when we are going over the syllabus that this will be a room full of people who you know and are a little familiar with by the end when you give your presentation, and it is easier to talk to people you are familiar with than those who are strangers (I know that is not the case with singing but I require no singing in these presentations 🙂 ).
What I hope happens through these assignments is that my students are a little more knowledgable about the practical uses of mathematics in their lives, and a little bit more likely to offer to write a paper or give a presentation at work because they have had to do it before.
My students have groaned a little about a paper in a math class, but my response to them is that they want math class to be a little different than all the other ones that they have had in the past and this is different. That usually makes them laugh and stop groaning. Most of my feedback from students has been positive and I have had some really great topics over the semesters. I have listed a couple below:
1. Using Area When Tiling a Floor
2. Parabolas in Missile Projection (the student had grown up in civil war somewhere in Africa)
3. Percentages Used in Figuring Furniture Budgets (the student worked in a furniture store)
4. Probability and Procedures in Craps (the student liked to gamble 🙂 )
5. How Fractions are Used in Music
6. Problem-Solving in a Classroom for Behavior Disorders
These are just a few of the interesting topics my students have come up with. I look forward to seeing what else my students can come up with in future years. If you have any other good ideas I would love to hear about them.