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Muhammed and the Number Genie: Illuminating Standards Video Series

Sixth grade students in San Diego, CA created a fictional book for young readers that explains mathematical concepts through an illustrated fantasy story. Inspired by the book The Number Devil, students created a narrative to transform the mathematics they were studying into compelling and clear concepts for readers. This film features an interview with the teacher, and investigates this question: If we want to students to persevere to solve problems, what will give them the motivation to persevere?. Illuminates CC 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.


- [Policeman] 911 emergencies.

- [Boy] Yeah I need some help.

- [Policeman] What’s the matter?

- [Boy] With my math.

- [Policeman] With your mouth?

- [Boy] No with my math. I have to do it. Will you help me?

- [Narrator] In classrooms each day, teachers find creative ways, to relay important concepts and skills to their students. One of the more difficult subject areas for most students is math. Teachers are charged with finding creative ways, to make math meaningful to students. The common core state standards for mathematics, begin with an important and practical standard. Number one: make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. But what about this word persevere. How do we inspire students to persevere? Where does perseverance even come from? As educators, how can we possibly build this disposition in students. Especially in math. Lets look together at a middle school where students struggled with complex, mathematical concepts and worked together for weeks to persevere in solving them. But what motivated them to do this? This is the story of the sixth grade team of Daniel’s and Strong at High Tech High Middle School in San Diego California. These students created memorable stories that take key concepts in math and embedded them into a narrative.

- There’s a protagonist who goes through this series of experiences that are sort of dreamlike and in the fantasy world and in each of these experiences that he has he learns about a mathematic concept and so Sarah had discovered this book and she wanted to bring literacy into her math classroom by reading it with kids and then exploring the math concepts in each chapter, which she did, as part of the project. She was so struck by the book that she thought our kids should write something similar. This book itself is gonna be the inspiration for the project.

- I’m Tyler and I was in six grade when I did this project. We did based it on the, “Number Devil,” andMohammed and the Number Genie. Its about a boy who lived in India and he was struggling in math and if he didn’t get a passing grade in math he wouldn’t be able to go on vacation, I think it was to Hawaii. I knowbut Mohammed loves planes and he was looking forward to his first plane ride this summer. So then he finds a lamp in his attic and then he opens it up and the number genie comes out and they travel all over the world learning different Math concepts. The difficult part was remembering every rule in math causethe one subject that I got I didn’t really know very much and I had to look into it more and learn more about it. Here’s the Y axis and the X axis and you had to get all the coordinates right. In the book he learns how to do coordinates and we had to use examples and make sure those were all correct.

- [Narrator] Students worked in peer groups, who pushed and critiqued each other along the way, they created draft after draft until finally, their perseverance paid off. But what made this problem different? What inspired these students to learn to persevere?

- But we would give them that choice and then we would form the groups and we would try to give them one of their choices for a math concept and at least one of their choices for who they’d like to work with so that the students felt like they had some voice in the grouping process but also we as teachers, we have goals for strategic grouping of kids and so it was kind of a hybrid model. The teachers got voice and choice and so did the students.

- [Narrator] Inspired by one book, these students wanted to inspire younger readers through their book of math concepts. By doing this they learned perseverance through purpose, voice and choice.

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