Give them less and hopefully they will give you more. This is the idea of a lot of bloggers out there, including @DanMeyer . He wants to give students less information and make them brainstorm and estimate before tackling a problem.
I did this project early in the school year. Our freshmen have BYOD, so I wanted to make use of the laptops. I had students work in groups and plan a trip to Disney. They were to work in google docs to create a powerpoint and only had a week to do the project because goodness knows you can take forever to plan a trip to Disney World.
I presented them with the basic premise and then had them ask me questions:
1st one: "How do we get there?" Well, I am blessed with a small class so there were only 3 groups I had to assign. I told one group they were flying, one group they were driving the family car the full way, and one group (we live in MA) they were to drive their car to Maryland, stay at a friend's house and then fly from MD to Florida (my family actually did this once to save on airfare.)
2nd question: "How much money do we have?" I told them $8,000. They were very excited.
3rd: "Who's going?" I told them a family of 4, mom, dad, a 10 year old and a 14 year old.
When? Nov 3-Nov 10, 2012.
Where do we stay? In the park.
Where do we eat? you decide.
As a class we brainstormed possible costs - food there, food on the travel, sunscreen, park tickets, transportation costs, hotel costs, souvenirs. Then, we brainstormed sties they might visit and finally they got to work.
I did tell them they needed to include some math in there - equations, tables, or graphs.
It was one of my favorite classes all year. They were immediately engaged. They started dividing up the work right away. They really are going at working collaboratively. And, then it was all up to them. I just walked around listening to their conversations:
"Let's stay at a Hotel 8 and stay for real cheap."
"Let's eat at McDonald's off the dollar menu." (I guess they didn't think that $8,000 was so great after all.)
"If we stay at the Grand Floridian that will be $5,500 and almost all our money."
One group was looking at all the costs separately and then someone found the packages, so they compared the two methods.
The group that was flying even remembered to include the cost of parking at the airport.
It worked. I gave them a little and they put it all together on their own!
Here are the instructions: (nope, can't find them right now. I will add them later if I can find it.)
Here is one of the students' powerpoints: Disney Student Project