You Want Me to Learn About Pythago...Who?

Let's isolate every subject area into a box and never let the boxes touch.
I'm all about cross-curricular pedagogy. I think students learn content best when it is bridged with a specific skill being learned, and I think reading, writing, and math skills are best learned when they are tied to real content.  I also think we need to give students opportunities to develop 21st century skills using the content and skills already being taught. Let's stop isolating content and skill sets and start bringing them together to increase engagement, enhance understanding, and develop critical thinkers with a skill set that will actually be valuable in the 21st century.
I recently blogged about What Are You Giving Your Students That They Can't Get for Themselves on YouTube? and can't get away from that question each time I plan a lesson. I also can't get away from a question posed by Alice Keeler recently: Is there anyway I can make this better with tech?
Me: Let's learn about Pythagorus!
So as I began preparing for a lesson on the Pythagorean Theorem, something that is not really a high motivator for a 7th grader at the end of April, let's just be honest here, I mulled those two questions around in my head: what can I give them on Pythagorus that they can't get for themselves on YouTube and is there any I can make this lesson on Pythagorus better with tech?
Staying true to my convictions of developing students who have 21st century skill sets and value in cross-curricular pedagogy, I created a three day mini-lesson. The objective isn't just students will use the Pythagorean Theorem to find the missing length of a triangle it also includes analyzing what makes good media, how can I take existing media and make it better, all within the context of Pythagorus, a seemingly boring old guy, is now the muse for my students' creativity and analysis. I have also taken what could have just been a 25 problem set lesson performing an isolated algorithm and have turned it into a brief history lesson, a media production lesson, and a real life math application lesson. This lesson has also shifted my role as the holder of knowledge to one of guiding students to find knowledge for themselves by posing questions that make them think critically.
To start off the lesson, I wanted to give students a voice. I use YouTube frequently in my lessons, but my choice in videos are always met with mixed reviews. So I started out my lesson with asking students for their opinion on what makes a good YouTube video, which opened up the classroom and allowed their voices to be heard.
The mass media objective of this lesson is to purposely use specific marketing strategies to create media that is engaging and memorable. I know humor, music, length of a video, and repetition are all good media strategies to consider when making a video, but I don't want to just give that to my students. I'm confident they already know these things themselves, they just probably haven't dialogued about it in an academic forum.
So rather than just hand them what they already know, I'm going to create opportunities for them to discover and collaborate (this is what I can give that YouTube can't!). I needed a way to capture what I anticipated were going to be similar ideas and themes, so I formatted our brainstorm spreadsheet to highlight these anticipated themes.
Once we had established what makes a "good" YouTube video, my students were tasked with watching the two videos I shared in our classroom and finding two other videos to share with their classmates that were "better than mine." This element of competition generally heightens the level of engagement. This also opened the door for critical thinking and analysis, because students had to justify why theirs is better. It also encouraged domain specific vocabulary.
The next piece of this lesson was the application of the content and knowledge gained. Students were asked to create a media production using media of their choice that gave a brief background on who Pythagorus was-insert history cross-curricular learning-as well as demonstrate how his theorem works. The final piece of this lesson is Alice Keeler's Give Me 3 for Feedback, which will provide evidence of each student's understanding of how to solve problems using the Pythagorean Theorem.
From this point, I will be able to quickly assess which students need my support and which ones are ready for the next learning task.
What am I giving students that they can't get for themselves? I can ask them questions to make them think.
How can I make this better with tech? I can give students opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and create in real time, with access to my support throughout the whole process.

Teach in the way they are smart.


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