The Ferris Wheel

“Right,” said Mr Poynt, briskly calling the class to attention, “now that we have those government tests out of the way I thought it would be good to dial down the stress levels with some authentic project work.”

This was good news to Jimmy. He hated how the government had made him spend the last five weeks endlessly practising tests. How many more times did he need to find out that he couldn’t do the last ten questions on the paper? Project work sounded good.

“Your task,” explained the teacher, “is to design a Ferris wheel for the town and market it to tourists. This is an opportunity to exercise your creativity muscles. Does everyone know what a Ferris Wheel is?” Mr Poynt pressed the space bar on his laptop and a picture of The London Eye appeared on the whiteboard.

“It has to be 20 metres high. You need to work out how much steel to use, how fast it will turn and so on. There’s a sheet with some questions like that on it which you will need to answer along with some guidance on how to do this,” he explained, “You will need to produce a poster on A3 paper and give a presentation to the class.”

Mr Poynt asked Vinay to distribute the sheets around the class.

“I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it. Think of me as a resource.”

Jimmy chose to work with his usual group: Vinay, Oscar and Byron. Earlier in the year, Mr Poynt had tried to enforce mixed groups of girls and boys but it didn’t last very long.

Anyway, the usual group was highly efficient. Jimmy would do the artwork – he was talented at drawing cartoons. He immediately started sketching the Ferris wheel. Vinay would do the research and Byron would do the writing and present the poster. Oscar was the maths genius so he could work out the numbers that Mr Poynt wanted.

“Marvellous!” Exclaimed Mr Poynt as he surveyed the purposeful activity that now filled the room. The students are so engaged! And with doing maths! If only the government could see that maths wasn’t just about the rote memorisation of mechanical procedures to reproduce on standardised tests.

Then he sat at his desk, took a long slurp of coffee and opened up his emails.

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7 Comments on “The Ferris Wheel”

  1. Tempe says:

    Frighteningly real.

    • David says:

      Only five weeks of test prep?!?! Sit and slurp whilst children work out something in groups? We don’t slurp, and we also don’t sit during group work, or any other work. Some of us don’t believe teachers should sit. Others simply don’t wish to get written up.

  2. Yes, the depiction of this “real world” exercise is frighteningly real. There are other examples in teaching students to “problem solve” (the 21st century term which was previously referred to as “solving problems”). The following problem from Hjalmarson and Diefes-Dux (2008) is one example: How many boxes would be needed to pack and ship one million books collected in a school-based book drive? In this problem the size of the books is unknown and varied, and the size of the boxes is not stated. While some teachers consider the open-ended nature of the problem to be deep, rich, and unique, students will generally lack the skills required to solve such a problem, skills such as knowledge of proper experimental approaches, systematic and random errors, organizational skills, and validation
    and verification.

    Margret A. Hjalmarson and Heidi Diefes-Dux
    (2008), Teacher as designer: A framework for
    teacher analysis of mathematical model-eliciting
    activities, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problembased
    Learning, Vol. 2, Iss. 1, Article 5. Available
    at http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1541–
    5015.1051.

  3. Pique Boo says:

    This year a few pairs of children from the top end of (then 12 year-old) Sprogette’s maths top set at the comp were given a project to plan and teach an entire lesson, which would “help them consolidate blah-blah deeper understanding blah-blah”. The topic she had to teach made those alleged benefits redundant, but that was OK because she’s an introvert and an occasional nudge out of her comfort zone isn’t a bad thing. $deity-knows whether the rest of the class got anything from it, but maths top sets do seem to have time to spare.

  4. Ann in L.A. says:

    I have this part:

    “Jimmy would do the artwork – he was talented at drawing cartoons. He immediately started sketching the Ferris wheel. Vinay would do the research and Byron would do the writing and present the poster. Oscar was the maths genius so he could work out the numbers that Mr Poynt wanted.”

    Look! It’s just like the adult world. Kids need to act like they’re in the adult world, right? Except in the adult world, everyone has already learned the basics before they chose to specialize. Here, kids are already specializing and locking in their best skills, but not learning any of the others. K-12 is not a time to specialize.


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