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Get Bent: Illuminating Standards Video Series

High School seniors in San Diego, California designed and built curved wooden chairs, researching design and marketing, using CAD programs and shop tools. The project authentically incorporated high-level high school math. This film features an interview with the math teacher and the art teacher, and shows multiple drafting of the work. Illuminates Mathematical Practice Standard 1.

The Illuminating Standards Project

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (EL Education) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
- What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
- How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
- How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos

Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- You’re using physics and mathematics to help build the chair to inspire the design, and also the lamp, and getting assistance from the art teacher to make objects that were aesthetically pleasing.

- If you say make a bent wood chair, make a lamp, and a book about the bent wood chair and the lamp, it’s pretty simple. And I got back all these complex ideas. We showed them some different ideas of chairs and we showed them our prototype because you always have to do the project yourself first. And then we took them to IKEA and we gave them a checklist. We said, “Find something in here that looks like it would be impossible to make. Find something in here that you don’t understand how it was made. Find something in here that looks like it would be cheaper to buy than to actually make yourself.” They went through processes. They had to hand in deliverables, the same way that we planned our chair, using Google Sketchup.

- [Andrew] By the time that they got to the half scale model though, that was really getting very, very close to what the final version was going to look like. So by that time we thought very deeply about well, now you’ve got your basic rough idea of what your chair will look like. What is the mathematics that you want to show to the actual design?

- They made the miniature of what they were planning on making, and some kids made good ones, and some of them made them and said, “Ah, this isn’t going to work out. Let’s do something different.”

- Every sort of piece of simple mathematics they had to really think about and use. They kind of do a worksheet on it and they show that they can answer question 1-36 and they can do it faster than anyone else. Give them the piece of wood and say, “All right, you’ve got one chance to cut this piece exactly right. It’s got to make a mitered corner like this. What are the two angles that you cut these pieces at?”

- Doing projects like “Get Bent” get you ready for what a real job is like. You have to finish your work. You have to plan something and execute it and finish it to a high degree of quality. That’s what the real world’s like. Everybody has to get it done. There’s no room for C workers. They had to keep getting it done. If they couldn’t do it themselves, they had to find somebody that could help them get it done. And the reason you do the project is so that people have an authentic connection into reality. And they don’t ask why they’re doing it. They’re doing it because they understand. Do the thing that’s going to give them authentic interest instead of torturing them and then bringing the fun thing in, let them eat dessert first. Have them learn about something fun, and then they would say, “Wow, how does that work?” You say, “Well, I’m glad you asked me that.” And then you show them.

- [Andrew] Can you think mathematically? Then some of those things make a little more sense. Trig starts to fall into place. You see that’s what sign or cosign, or even tangent, maybe even more so with tangent in building than anything else is used for.

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