What is the difference between projects, concept units, and focus areas?

A concept unit is a collection of math tasks that leads to students learning one or multiple mathematical concepts and getting summative assessment scores that reflect their learning.  Because in concept units students grapple with unfamiliar problems which lead to understanding of big and complex mathematical ideas, teachers are advised to select the tasks students do and facilitate their learning experience.  Concept units are graded on the concept rubric.

A focus area is a place where students practice procedures, moving toward fluency.  Students can work mostly individually, accessing resources of their choice at their own pace.  To pass a focus area, students must pass a content assessment.

A focus area is not a prerequisite for a concept unit, nor vice versa.  There’s no one way for a concept unit and a focus area to interact; learning doesn’t necessarily happen linearly, nor in a uniform way for all learners.  In some instances, a concept unit can provide an experience that illuminates big ideas, making a procedure or set of procedures in a focus area seem easier or even self-evident.  In other instances, gaining familiarity and even fluency with a procedure in a focus area can help set students up for success in understanding the bigger mathematical ideas in the concept unit.

In projects, with the teacher’s guidance, students engage in a prolonged inquiry into a complex problem and develop a set of cognitive skills.  The projects may be quantitative and require some mathematical skills or knowledge.  Materials are available to students right away and students often go at their own pace through the activities, resources, and checkpoints.  Projects are scored on the cognitive skills rubric, not the math concept rubric.

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