Day 176: PBL Balloons
I’m not sure this project fits the entire criteria of a project-based learning (PBL) experience, but it sure contains a lot of them! For instance, most sites discussing PBL suggest that students have a voice and choice in completing the project, that it emphasizes 21st century and technology skills and that there be an essential or critical question to be answered.
Volker Ulm (2011) suggests:
Enriching classroom teaching with projects is certainly the most challenging, but at the same time the most beneficial form of independent learning. It is challenging because it requires high-level skills on the part of the students, e.g. skills in applying methods, self-management, and social competence. So project-based learning should never degenerate into a teacher-centered training course where ultimately the teacher still does all the planning, structuring and organizing, prepares and procures all the materials, or even produces and presents the results. (p. 44)
Through this added lens, I’m not convinced this project is truly a PBL experience because I did structure the work somewhat by giving them charts to fill in to eventually build the gores of the hot air balloons. This makes me wonder if I can simply ask my students to determine a process for designing the pattern rather than walking them through some of the essential steps. To create the process, students would need to understand the idea of solids of revolution and the disc method for finding area under a curve….much beyond the scope of precalculus. Some things to ponder, for sure!
But in other respects, this project requires the students to be independent (if they ask me a question for which they can find the answer somewhere else, they are docked 5 points…worked like a charm!) and resourceful. They needed to use previous skills and concepts to design the cross-section of a balloon within two constraints (at x = 0, y= 1.5 and the largest x: 12 < x <13, y = 0). No other directions are given, so the students need to think about what cross-section shape they need. They have to manage their time from start to finish with little guidance except the day the balloons need to be ready to fly.