Math PBL, Benchmark, and Results

The past few weeks we’ve been gearing up to take our Spring Math Benchmark.  Being in a classroom that doesn’t use class time to teach test formatted questions and being that I refuse to do worksheets, I had to figure out some way to review the skills for the upcoming exam.  A few years ago I had attended an EdCamp and heard about a teacher doing a project where the kids had to plan a trip.  So I took that idea and ran with it.
You can find the link to the Google Document I shared with my students HERE.  Essentially what they had to do was plan a vacation for four and stay within their budget of $5,000.  You can read the rest of the expectations on the google document.  When the kids were finished with their planning they had to create some sort of visual (poster, google presentation, etc) to show the class their totals and to talk about how they were planning to spend their vacation.  I wanted an activity that was very set in the real-world and one that would have the students using a multitude of skills.  A project like this also afforded me time to pull small groups throughout class to work on skills they may still be struggling with.

Watching the end results was awesome.  Kids planned trips to Las Vegas, Washington DC, Michigan, Florida, California and everywhere in between.  But one thing that I found the most humorous was that over half the students planned nap times within their days.  Who would have thought?
We did this project for about 3 weeks, and then took our Spring Math Benchmark.  In Texas, in April every year my 5th graders take the math STAAR test.  Last year the state of Texas released the exam to us, so this year we used that exam as their Math Benchmark.  To say I was nervous was an understatement.  I always get nervous when we take standardized exams because I do things so differently.  There are four other elementary schools in my district that I always want to stay competitive with when it comes to standardized exams.  We took the exam on Tuesday and my students were ALL OVER me about results.  They know how hard they work and they want to see how well they compare to others.  But at the same time my students don’t get extremely upset when they don’t do amazingly.  Why?  Because of the way I approach standardized exams.  I always tell them the exams exist to show us our weaknesses and where we need to work.  They don’t exist to tell us we’re failures.  And so when you get a test back, and it’s not what you wanted, all you can do is see where your weaknesses still are and work your butt off to improve those weaknesses.  When we got the scores back we came in second place out of the five elementary schools.  My kiddos were ecstatic.  We had huge celebrations for our hard work and we made sure to celebrate everyone because we work together to achieve great things!

Are test scores the only barometer of success?  No way.  But my kids worked hard for those benchmark scores and are proof that you don’t have to “drill and kill” to find success.  When you build relationships, set goals, and actually let kids create and explore, the learning happens at much deeper and long lasting levels.  I’m so glad I’ve chosen to teach my students they way that I have!

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