Math and PBL ramblings

I am currently following a great LearnNowBC course on Project Based Learning.  A forum thread on Math and PBL got me thinking so I left a long, rambling post on the forum.  I wanted to remember the post and the links shared so I thought I would re-post it here:


This is where I struggle with math and projects. The way I teach math at the moment is quite linear. My students need to understand skill A before they can really get skill B, and they need constant feedback from me as they struggle with concepts so that they don’t develop misconceptions. This builds their confidence and their willingness to push themselves further. Projects in my experience tend to be more organic and require very careful scaffolding to make sure the students learn what I need them to learn. To be honest part of the reason I don’t do more projects in Math class is that the planning involved in pulling off a project that allows for student choice as well as careful scaffolding of concepts is a bit overwhelming. I have however managed one project that I think pulls this off:

A few other random thoughts I wanted to share:

I think that in Math class (and maybe in other classes as well) PBL needs to be built on a firm foundation of progressive pedagogy. Over the past couple of years I have been working on changing my grading practices ( and trying to think of my curriculum in a less linear fashion. The next step I feel is to try and plan out my year as a series of projects and map learning outcomes to these projects.

In some ways I feel that Dan Meyer’s 3 acts approach to Math problems might be a good model to adopt when trying PBL in the math classroom in that Act 1 hooks the students in, Act 2 allows us to actually teach them what they need to know and then Act 3 allows them to apply their learning (At least I think that’s his approach).

I also wanted to mention that the Critical Thinking Consortium has a really interesting approach to Inquiry in the Math class that I think is very applicable to PBL. I blog about it here: but the key piece I came away with was the importance of picking tasks that have a low level of entry (so everyone in the class can get started) but have a high ceiling so that students can go into as much depth and complexity as they are able.

For the most part I think what I have really been talking about here is Problem Based Learning which I think is maybe the easier fit in a Math classroom. It has occurred to me that Project Based Learning might work if the focus of the Project is to learn and communicate what you are learning. Eric Marcos’s Math Train TV comes to mind as a good example.

Finally I thought I would mention that the Math Project Journal is a great resource for teachers looking for engaging math projects to try in Middle and High School classes.

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