Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nepris + Project Based Learning = Unforgettable Experience

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit our middle school to witness firsthand the value of Project Based Learning. One of our 8th-grade math teachers assigned a Waterpark Design Project and then reached out to Nepris to find an industry expert for the project. (For complete details about the project, you can view the assignment here.) If you are not familiar with Nepris, I highly recommend you check it out! They find real-world industry experts to connect with your class via Zoom, a web conferencing program. While a free basic account has some limitations, such as only one LIVE web conference, you still have access to their growing database of recorded conferences to share with students. In this case, the 8th-grade math teacher has a FREE Nepris account. She completed the request form that correlated with the waterpark design project and then Nepris went to work to find an expert. The teacher was hopeful for an expert from the waterpark industry; however, Nepris was unable to find one. Instead, Nepris located a rollercoaster designer and connected him with the teacher. This expert exceeded everyone's expectations! Prior to the video chat, he completed the waterpark project so he could have a better understanding of what was asked of the students. Then, on the day of the video conference (all set up by Nepris), he talked with the students about his professional experiences, how math is used daily in his career, and related the engineering behind rollercoasters to waterslides. Students were engaged during the entire hour as they interacted with the speaker answering and asking questions. Near the end of the video call, students showed off their waterparks and were put on the hotspot as the expert asked them questions. *Once we receive the filtered video from Nepris, I'll be sure to add the link to this post.*

As I witnessed the live video web chat and talked to the teacher and students afterward about their project and their Nepris experience, I had a few thoughts. Hopefully, something in this post will inspire you to create an unforgettable learning experience in your classroom or campus.

  • I wish more teachers and more students had the opportunity to experience this project-based learning environment. As students applied their math skills to design their waterpark, they learned so much more than how to solve linear equations and plot coordinate pairs. 
    • When I asked the students if they would rather complete this project or practice solving problems on a worksheet, they, of course, chose the project. After all, they got valuable feedback from a degreed engineer which was way more meaningful to them than a grade in the gradebook. 
    • When I asked the teacher if she would rather prepare and implement the project or run-off worksheets and quizzes, she too chose the project. In fact, she stated, "I wish I could do this type of teaching and learning most of the time!" Instead, she feels pressured to follow the standard teach, practice, test format. But now that she's witnessed the learning that took place with this project, I have a feeling she'll be leading the project-based instruction philosophy on her campus next year. 
    • The learning experience was so much more relevant and rigorous and will be remembered by these students for many years to come. 
  • When talking with the teacher about her Nepris experience, she explained how simple and quick the request process was but definitely recommended to submit requests well in advance (2 to 3 weeks prior to the target date for video conference). She also raved about the ease of setup for the actual conference call. I hope other teachers will give it a try!
  • My favorite quote from the video conference was the rollercoaster designer's response to "what is your degree in?" His answer, "I have a degree in engineering but what your degree is in is not what's important. What's important is your desire to learn!
View a few of the finished waterparks in the slideshow below. (I wish I would have taken more pictures. The students did an AWESOME job designing their waterparks!)



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