The final project from our "Moving Straight Ahead" unit was a to create a leaky sink with a paper cup. Well, I fortuitously (?) have a leaky sink in the back of my classroom. So I took that inspiration and applied it to our own real-life problem.
I wish you could've seen my students crowded around my sink, measuring water droplets. I wish you could've seen them at the white board, writing the questions we needed to solve. I wish you could've seen them scouring the internet, looking for conversion rates and effects of the Californian droughts. It was beautiful. Math was no longer a theoretical problem; it was real and right in our room. It gave some real excitement to solving the problem.
I'll be honest: I was shocked at how much water my sink wastes a day (34 L!). That's a lot more than I figured from a little drip. It actually made me upset that we've been wasting so much water.
As an English teacher, it made me so happy to have my students write a business letter to a real audience. We talked about tone and word choice and what data we needed to communicate. We talked about formatting and how to best communicate our information.
Then today we walked the report down to our superintendent who has the power to send it to the district. I made a student practice a schpeal, and they walked into his office and sat down at his table to summarize the problem. I stood right outside the door and smiled proudly. They handed him their report, and he asked for a digital copy to send to the right people. He even took a business card out of his desk and handed it to them. As we walked out, one of my students shook the superintendent's hand and said, "Thanks for doing business with you." Precious.
And underneath all of this, we used math. We created linear equations. We used equivalent fractions. We talked about rates. We created tables. We talked about mathematical assumptions.
And we talked about how this is real-world problem-solving. You could often be asked to solve problems in a team like this. We talked about when to divvy up responsibilities and when to talk together as a team. We had proofreaders and table-beautifiers and information gatherers.
This unit just further confirmed the power of an authentic task and audience. My students were into it. Yes, they still needed some direction and mentorship in the process, but they wanted an answer to the problem. They wanted to use math because there was a real purpose. It was a truly beautiful thing.