I was a bit harsh on textbooks in my last post. In a perfect world all teachers would be creators of the content that they use in their classrooms. This isn’t a perfect world. Modern classroom teachers are often responsible for so many other things these days that writing the content to be used in your class is impossible. Time simply doesn’t allow it.

However, there is still a way to use the textbooks and get the most out of them without having to (completely) reinvent the wheel.

The following is a typical textbook question/problem:

James is taking a cab from the airport. The cab company charges a pick up fee of $2.75 and also charges $2.25 per mile driven for all passengers. Write an algebraic equation that represent this situation where X is the number of miles driven and Y is the total paid to the cab driver.

While there isn’t anything wrong with this question, per se, it isn’t very intellectually interesting to the student, nor does it provide students with an opportunity to see the interconnectedness of the various strands of mathematics. Classroom teacher can (and should) take the simple, single skill driven textbook questions and modify them to be more complex and intellectually interesting to the students. See the modified question below:

Tiffany Smart received a cell phone as a birthday gift. She promptly downloaded the Ubertwitter and Facebook applications for her new phone. Her phone company charges her a monthly fee of $39.99 for her plan minutes and a fee of $0.05 for every MB of data she uses via her mobile internet.

a. What are all of the variables in this problem solving situation? Identify them as either rates of change, constants, independent and/or dependent variables. Be sure to explain how you have chosen to categorize each variable.

b. How can she use an algebraic equation to determine the cost of her cell phone plan each month if her data usage fluctuates each month?

c. Tiffany uses 100MB of data in January and her data usage increased by 25MB each month after January for three months. Represent her data usage in a table and in a graph.

d. As a result of the increase in her data usage her cell phone bill does not remain constant from month to month. Use a table to represent her cell phone bill is she uses 0, 50, 100, 125, or 200 MB of data per month.

e. What relationships (if any) exist between the variables in this problem?

The modified question is considerably longer. However, the additional sub-questions direct the student to see the verbal, visual, and symbolic representations of the problem solving situation. Whether or not the question is truly more intellectually stimulating than the first is up for debate, but it is definitely more rigorous. Hopefully my (and your) attempts to make questions relevant to students is well received and not seen as a weak attempt to be “cool”.

*Notes: This tactic ( which I use fairly often because I don’t have the time to write ALL of my own content ) still isn’t as good a teacher as experiential learning. The nature of any teacher/textbook created question is to be teacher centered with a specific goal in mind. The questions themselves, by definition, constrain the students’ thinking to a single box. However, by layering questions it is possible to do more with less with your students.

How do you modify YOUR content ?

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