For example, Paine, a former math teacher, describes one Charleston, West Virginia, school where a car accident between two teachers in a school parking lot was used as a starting point to learn about geometry, civics, law, engineering and public speaking.
Students were asked to redesign the parking lot to minimize the likelihood of an accident and maximize the number of spaces.
But first, students went to the city manager to figure out the legal requirements for a parking space. Then they had to calculate the perimeter of what they thought was a rectangular space but turned out to have several nooks and crannies for more spaces.
“They measured the space of about four or five different areas and then they had to calculate the square footage — now you’re in the multistep calculation,” Paine said.
Finally, students were asked to try and determine who was legally at fault in the accident and present and defend their proposals for an improved parking lot to their peers, school officials and parents.
West Virginia students work on a project-based learning plan to improve a parking lot.
“That’s really engaging kids in project-based, deep-thinking types of learning that I saw in Finland, and that’s what we tried to replicate in our state,” Paine said. And not coincidentally, just the kind of pragmatic, complex, collaborative problem-solving that companies say they need in the 21st century workplace.
My aunt and uncle are award winning K-12 math and science teachers and my dad is a college math professor. It is fascinating and often disheartening to hear them talk about the state of our education system. This is something I’m taking a keener interest in now that I have a daughter of my own.