A Project by Lari Garrison
In the context of a fairly traditional honors geometry course there is not much opportunity for students to explore mathematical concepts that they find interesting. My colleague, Anne Hanson, and I decided that a major research project in which students would write a paper, create visual aids, and deliver an oral presentation would give students the opportunity to investigate and report about a topic to which they might not be exposed otherwise. We decided to do the project for another reason as well, to provide a significant assignment in which students would have to communicate mathematical concepts both orally and in written form. To complete the project students will also have to read others' "presentations of mathematics with understanding." Since Standard #2 of the NCTM Standards is Mathematics as Communication, we felt this project was a very appropriate addition to our curriculum.
We have had one year of experience implementing a research project in our honors geometry class, and we have found that the mathematics resources in our high school and local library were insufficient for the extensive research project. The librarians were very helpful, but there had not been the need for books (other than texts) about mathematics and its history, so there were very few books for our students to use. We found that we had to eliminate several topics from our list of potential projects due to the lack of resources.
This year we have been excited to learn that all of our classroom computer labs would have internet access, so Anne and I started to think about how the technology would change our research project. In January we gave all of our students a list of suggested topics and a schedule of due dates and expectations listed. Before the project got too far along we had to develop rubrics which would be used to evaluate student performance. We decided to allow them to work alone or in groups of two on the project. Students were expected to do some preliminary research to decide what topic they wanted to spend a semester researching. Many students had never used the internet for research before this project, so our first task was to teach them how to use the internet efficiently and ethically. We spent a couple of days in the computer lab to allow them to begin their research and set up web pages with some starting points for their web research. Students requested topics in late January, and began gathering sources for their "working" bibliographies. The next job was to begin taking notes, and in early March we collected notecards which students had completed up to that point. To help students plan, and to encourage them to think about the focus and content of their project, we required that students turn in a project proposal. At this point we have spent about ten days in the lab. Students have been allowed to use the time for any kind of project work they needed to complete. We also scheduled conferences with students who felt concerned about their progress or who were having trouble understanding a math concept. Students will soon submit outlines for their papers and, by the end of April, will submit rough drafts for their papers. Finally by the end of May students will turn in papers and visual aids, and make their oral presentations to the class. We are encouraging students to use technology to make their presentations more dynamic, so we will continue to have lab days the rest of the semester.
This project has accomplished several learning objectives, our students can successfully use the internet to complete research, they are learning to communicate mathematical ideas in a number of different ways, and they are exploring topics and concepts outside our honors geometry curriculum. I am very excited about the oral presentations, because students will have the opportunity to share their information with their peers. It is unrealistic, however, to expect that students will be able to compete research projects using the internet only. We still need to rely on some books for sources, but the internet has allowed us to expand our list of topics significantly.