Fishing and land use are two critical issues for the state of Alaska. It may not come as a huge surprise that these issues are frequent topics of discussion in Jason Arthur’s class.  Jason teaches at Highland Tech High School in Anchorage. It might be assumed that he teaches social studies or a social sciences class, but he teaches high school math. So when a student wanted help meeting her Algebra 2 course requirement with the goal of finishing the course early, Mr. Arthur worked with her to develop a special project that has now become a mainstay in his curriculum.

The intent of the project is for students to develop an understanding of peak salmon fishing runs for key rivers in the state making predictions on fish count based on analysis of past data. Students mine and analyze data from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and come up with an average daily number of salmon running through select rivers over the course of a seasonal salmon run. Students take those averages and create a quadratic regression function and graph to illustrate approximate beginning and ending dates of the run along with a prediction of the peak date for the number of fish on any given year. This analysis is done in Excel along with TI graphing calculators. For a state that derives a significant amount of its revenue and jobs through the fisheries industry you can’t get much more real-world than that.

At that point many educators might call it good. A real-world project that hooks (no pun intended) students with a local community issue and puts professional tools in their hands, certainly it is a project where the learning taken could be applied in many scenarios beyond the classroom, not to mention covering a bevy of state math standards, ISTE standards and other critical 21st century skills such as collaboration and scientific analysis, environmental literacy, to name a few.

But here’s where Mr. Arthur and his students take it one step further making the project and learning even more authentic. The students take their information and present it to a panel of experts that may include teachers, administrators, their principal (who happens to be an avid fisherwoman), community members, business partners, parents, and finally to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials! Students choose how they want to present their information, and with creativity encouraged, students create videos, PowerPoint presentations and brochures to communicate their findings.

In the picture an Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game Biologist is giving students feedback on their presentation.

What strikes me about this project is its authenticity. We often discuss real-world happenings in the classroom, I know I certainly watched kids in my social studies classroom engage much more when a current event topic was the focus of the dialogue versus delving into a more obscure and important (?!) historical person or event. Adolescents minds are in the here and now and drawn to issues that affect them or those immediately around them. This is part brain development and part of the psychology of a high school student. Mr. Arthur grabs his students with an issue they can relate to and makes the learning come alive.

Mr. Arthur pushes his students to excel by setting a real-world, locally impactful topic in front of students, guiding them through the necessary scaffolding while establishing a compelling end goal of a presentation in front of key stakeholders. This sounds a lot like what many of us do in our real 21st century day jobs!

It is not surprising that Jason Arthur’s project with the catchy title Combat Fishin’ was one of the 10 winners at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum. Jason will take his project and represent his students, the state of Alaska and the U.S. to the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC (Nov. 7-11) where over a hundred educators from 70 countries will exhibit innovative projects from around the world.

If you want to keep track of what’s going on at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in DC, connect to our Facebook page and watch for real-time updates on @TeachTec #msftpil. You can also checkout Jason Arthur’s blog here.

What examples have you found effective in bringing real-world, community issues into the classroom? Where have you achieved authentic learning? I would love to hear what you’re doing.

Regards,

Rob