Holy Smokes Batman! What Is That?

That Robin, is project-based learning…”a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.” (Edutopia) Extreme exposure has been known to drive teachers mad.

“Robin and Batman” by ABC Television – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

And there it was the solution to all of my problems…project-based learning. Engage students in a significant activity based on a interesting question (WOP!). Give them scaffolding resources to keep them on track (POW!). Have them complete a realistic assessment to demonstrate their learning (KAPOW!). It was a terrific plan and for a while kept Gotham content and happy(KA-CHING!).

But as everyone knows, Gotham City is filled with an array of nefarious characters ready to defeat the peaceful city. Sometimes powerful measures must be taken to defeat the likes of Riddler, Joker, Catwoman, Egghead, and Penguin.

“Batman villians 1966” by Greenway Productions – eBay

Last semester it was the nefarious forces of faculty load that forced me to teach an extra class section. Since one of my classes had low enrollment, I taught an extra section of College Algebra to make up for this deficit. This was in addition to the two College Algebra sections I was already teaching along with three other classes.

What’s the big deal? In each of these classes I assign four projects over the semester. The due dates are all staggered so on any given Friday, projects are due in only one class. However, when you have three sections of College Algebra…that means 90 projects will be due on a Friday (four times throughout the semester!). It’s kind of like this episode.

Just like Batman and Robin confronting Riddler, assigning individual projects seemed like a good idea. Students could work on similar problems together and then turn in some type of document explaining their work.

But I walked right into a trap…grading all of those individual projects was exhausting and took me over a week and a half each time. I was often grading College Algebra projects as projects from other classes were coming in. Like Batman and Robin, I was spinning, spinning…bound for certain death. Or at least madness.

Batman and Robin always manage to get out of every jam. Through a little teamwork…maybe some cool tool from the utility belt, they always escape the clutches of the villain. The batarangs and tranquilizer guns are effective for Batman. But something tells me that they might be prohibited under the College’s Weapons policy. And I have found that putting students to sleep is not really an effective teaching tool.

So I needed some new tools on my utility belt and I needed Robin…maybe even Batgirl. I didn’t see any of my colleagues jumping up and down to be my sidekick (not even with the cool prerequisite tights). Instead of an instructional “team”, perhaps I could organize my students into teams. They could work collaboratively to solve the projects instead of individually. I could grade fifteen or sixteen team projects instead of ninety individual projects. This could save me a lot of time grading, but would it be a valuable learning experience for all members on the team? Would this solution simply lead me into another bat trap?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore teamwork in my college classroom and how I added Google Tools to my bat belt. I’ll look at the logistics of getting students on Google, the collaborative tools available, the modifications I made to several projects, and the self assessment students completed for each project. Although I teach mathematics, most of this discussion could be applied in other disciplines where you want students to work together to produce some “product”.

So join me again next week…you know the drill…same time, same bat channel.