Saturday, January 21, 2017

How to use Posters, Projects and Portfolios with Math, Reading, History, Science and English

How to use Posters, Projects and Portfolios with Math, Reading, History, Science and English   
by Steve McCrea

Working with colleagues to make connections with math
When I work with students about math, I want to work with other teachers, too.  If the project can be made “interdisciplinary,” then the math can connect with other parts of the school work that the students are doing.   Percentages, graphs with slopes, charts, tables, rates of change, comparing values, converting currencies and dimensions are some of the ways to infuse math in other subjects.  Many of these “basic” concepts are tested more deeply in SAT and ACT tests.  By integrating math in other subjects, we can make math more “real” for many students.

Other colleagues don’t have to participate.  It certainly helps the students put more effort into a project if they can find a teacher who will give extra credit if the project is prepared by using materials from other classes.

Posters turn into talking points
Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 10.18.41 AM.png
Learning is talking (teaching is listening)
This couplet about learning and teaching is used at Big Picture Learning (page 11 of the ebook at
I ask my students to create posters  ( is an easy-to-use system) for them to dispay rules that they have learned in math.   This procedure works with any subject.   (I have certifications in ESOL, English, Biology, Reading, Social Studies and Earth Space Science).

Projects make the school work “real”
This concept is used at Big Picture Learning in Providence, R.I.   
Recommended resources: Big Picture Learning Advisor handbook
BigPicture book by Dennis Littky
Radio interview with Dennis Littky  April 25, 2005

Storing the project on digital portfolios (free websites)
Students will tend to put more time in a project if they know that the project could bring credit from other courses and if the project can be shown to colleges and others who are

”The single most important thing you could do tomorrow for little to no money is have every student establish a digital portfolio where they collect their best work as evidence of their skills. Where they’re working with their teachers and other adults to present their best work, to iterate their best work, so that they actually have real progress they can show.
Tony Wagner, Harvard University  
Seven Survival Skills  

I like to show students how to use Google Sites to grab a slice of the Internet for themselves.   This is a procedure used in California by students at High Tech High School.   See an example at

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 10.51.37 AM.png
Protect privacy by limiting who can see the website.  I usually ask the students to show me, themselves and any other teachers who are involved with the project.   I encourage colleagues to give credit to students who expand a math project to include history, science, English, or other languages in their presentation.  

Themes to guide the projects.   I use the Big Picture questions.  
See the Five Themes in the attached list of resources.

Improve Reading by asking students to write a book
Students who write more often read better.  Amazon’s program called Createspace allows students to turn any Word document into a book that appears on Amazon and is searchable by the author’s name.  Students can be self-published.  This is an added dimension to their portfolio of work to show colleges and others.  See for more information.   Some examples of students who have published using this system are Daniel Muñoz and Kenide Blanc at SunEd High School.

Leave time for discussion
I have found that allowing students to bring in issues that are important to them can expand and deepen their commitment to the time spent in class.  Discussions can be turned to “find the math” behind their concerns.  Neil Postman wrote about the importance of letting students consider bigger questions.  His book Teaching as a Subversive Activity has some questions that might engage the attention of students.

Postman’s Questions
Reflect on these questions - and others that these can generate. Please do not merely react to them.

What do you worry about most?

What are the causes of your worries?

Can any of your worries be eliminated? How?

Which of them might you deal with first? How do you decide?

Are there other people with the same problems? How do you know? How can you find out?

If you had an important idea that you wanted to let everyone (in the world) know about, how might you go about letting them know?

What bothers you most about adults? Why?

How do you want to be similar to or different from adults you know when you become an adult?

What, if anything, seems to you to be worth dying for?

How did you come to believe this?

What seems worth living for?

How did you come to believe this?

At the present moment, what would you most like to be - or be able to do?

Why? What would you have to know in order to be able to do it? What would you have to do in order to get to know it?

How can you tell 'good guys' from 'bad guys'?

How can 'good' be distinguished from 'evil'?

What kind of a person would you most like to be? How might you get to be this kind of person?

At the present moment, what would you most like to be doing?

Five years from now? Ten years from now? Why? What might you have to do to realize these hopes? What might you have to give up in order to do some or all of these things?

When you hear or read or observe something, how do you know what it means?

Where does meaning 'come from'?

What does 'meaning' mean?

How can you tell what something 'is' or whether it is?

Where does knowledge come from?

What do you think are sane of man's most important ideas?

Where did they come from? Why? How? Now what?

What's a 'good idea'?

How do you know when a good or live idea becomes a bad or dead idea?

Which of man's ideas would we be better off forgetting? How do you decide?

How to manage a classroom.
Some principals are concerned about how classroom management can take place in a class that allows free discussion of topics and where students help to determine what and how the subject is learned.   I find that three procedures are helpful for classroom management.
  1. Talk with students ahead of time, individually, to find out their interests.
  2. Talk with parents ahead of time to set up apps on the students’ phones.  This step shows that the teacher is concerned about creating an enhanced environment for learning.   Many parents like it when the first call from a teacher is a positive call.   “I spoke with your child and learned that he’s interested in starting a business someday.  I’d like to find out if you would support the idea of monetizing his YouTube account.”
  3. When there is a disciplinary issue, I speak with the parents and I follow up with an action plan.   The next day, there is a followup call to ensure that the attention is maintained.   Calls continue to reinforce the improved behavior.

The list of questions come from the Big Picture Learning Advisor book
BigPicture book by Dennis Littky
Radio interview with Dennis Littky  April 25, 2005

The Neil Postman Questions come from

The Free Website Project’s steps are located at

The “how to create a free website” book is an ebook located at

The video showing the Flipped Classroom by Katie Gimbar is located at

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 10.22.37 AM.png

Katie Gimbar’s presentation comes from North Carolina State University’s program for teaching innovative practices coupled with technology.   Her video is popular!  She teaches 8th grade Algebra.  Her technique of recording a lecture for students to watch outside the class can be used for any subject.
Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 10.23.05 AM.png

She points out that the students watch the video the night before and the students arrive  in class ready to discuss and use the information that she presented.
THE FLIP asks students to hear the points at home and then come to class to apply the information.   

Students who don’t have access to the lecture (video) can watch the video in class or receive the lecture by students who saw it.   The teacher stands by and checks the presentations.  Students who make presentations are deepening their understanding of the points.   This is especially valuable when teaching math, but the concept of “learning by teaching” works for any subject.

The Big Picture Learning Questions for guiding the creation of projects

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 9.57.52 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 9.58.13 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 10.20.21 AM.png

You can find this presentation as a PDF at

No comments:

Post a Comment