Saturday, 10 May 2014 20:50

The Dream House Project (Teaching Tip #117) Featured

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I am a big believer in using the last few weeks of every school year to try new things and test out ideas that I might want to incorporate into my practice the following year. These ideas can relate to curriculum, instruction, the physical classroom environment, or management. The children enjoy a fresh approach at this time of the year, and there's really no downside to doing this. If the idea proves to be successful, I will implement it the following year, and if it doesn't, I won't.

My favorite example of this idea in action pertains to room arrangement. At the beginning of my career, my students sat at tables of 6-8, but I didn't like the fact that many children had their backs to their classmates. Plus, there wasn't much space for a rug area in the front of the room near the board. So, at the end of the year, I experimented with a "horseshoe" shape. I loved it so much that I have arranged the desks in this formation ever since.

This year my new focus is a geometry unit called the Dream House Project. Last summer, after I found out that I would be moving to 4th grade after many years teaching third, I researched different units and projects, and this was, by far, the most promising, engaging, and challenging. The only potential problem was that each version of the project that I found online was designed for 6th graders. The project brings together a host of geometry standards and calls for students to design the floor plans of their dream houses and build three-dimensional models.

Over the past two weeks, my students have been creating their blueprints, calculating the area of each room, determining the cost of their flooring, measuring angles, finding the perimeter of the entire house, and making many decisions about the backyard area. This coming Monday and Tuesday, with the assistance of several parent volunteers, we will build the models. The picture you see shows the model that one of the parent volunteers and I made as a sample. It took the two of us five hours to complete, and we learned a lot along the way. Without a doubt, this project is the most ambitious endeavor I have tried with students, and I am looking forward to seeing how everything turns out. 

Launching this project hasn't been easy or stress-free, but it has been exhilarating, and I have never seen children more excited about a project. Many have even chosen to come into the room during their lunchtime to select their flooring, wallpaper, and exterior. In the coming weeks I will update you on our progress.