I don’t assign a lot of math projects. Occasionally we’ll do some “math in real life” homework assignments, but projects of the major-grade variety, that take several weeks to finish, don’t feature heavily in my classes. They aren’t bad by any means, but they aren’t a good fit for my classes right now.
In fact, I only assign one.
This is a project that I did in high school. When we were reviewing for the AP Calculus exam, my teacher assigned this project to our class. Years later, I still have it. It’s survived moves to and from college, to grad school, home from grad school, to an apartment, and now to a house. I still use the thing when I’m preparing notes for class, and I’m still proud of it. I figure that any kind of project that has such a strong effect on me is probably worth assigning.
The assignment is pretty simple. I hand out a list of 31 topics that cover the essentials of what we’ve studied this past year. Some of them are big ideas, some of them are just detailed things they’ll need for the AP exam, some of them are places where I know they’re weak. For each topic, they have to create a page of notes, including examples. Then they compile them into a notebook with an interesting, mathematically-themed cover. I suggest color, but don’t require it. They have two weeks to work on it. I even break it down for them and tell them to have these pages done and ready to discuss in class on these days. We go over any questions they have on those topics and work some practice problems. It’s Stage 1 of AP review.
You can find the list of topics here:
In the past, this has gone over pretty well. My one BC student still has and uses his notebook from last year. Students usually tell me that it really helps them get ready for the exam, because they’re going over everything and explaining it in their own words. I especially like that they have to put it in their own words. It’s a higher order of learning than just working problems, and it makes them internalize it in a different way. Plus, it’s a fairly easy major grade. It’s time consuming, but it’s not hard, and it’s something they should be doing anyways to study. If you just do a thorough job, you’ll probably get an A.
The projects were due on Friday. I always like the day they’re due because I get to see what they’ve come up with. The ones who really put the time in are usually so proud of their work; it’s fun to see how invested they get in their work. Some of them really go to town on the covers. I love seeing their personalities come through. One girl told me that she stayed up late, markers and sharpies strewn everywhere, working on hers. The cover is only worth about 5 points on the grade, but it’s the most fun.
Grading always takes longer than I remember (I struggle with 11. How did my high school teacher handle 110?), but I get to see the students’ strengths. One girl doesn’t grasp Calculus intuitively, but she takes fantastic notes and explains things really well. Another boy has struggled all year, but put in a lot of work and is starting to pull a lot of the concepts together. Another filled his with inside-jokes from class. These make me smile.
This, of course, is just Stage 1 of AP Review. I’ll post on Stages 2 and 3 sometimes soon.