Project Based learning is an effective teaching method for the math classroom. It will take a lot of work to get started, but it is worth the benefit to students. They will learn math skills while taking ownership of that learning by building an actual product or developing a proposal.
Change Your Classroom
As teachers we do not like change. We may have been teaching twenty years and have our lessons and routines established, or we may be new to the profession, but the world is changing, and we have to change with it. We need to change the way we teach. Our students can no longer sit at their desks working on isolated skills, they need to learn to work together and participate in meaningful projects.
One major difference between PBL projects and traditional schoolwork, is that the students work on authentic projects, and they work on them for a long period of time. According to The Buck Institution for Education, BIE, students learn to solve problems, communicate, reflect on their work, and work with the community on real-life issues while learning specific skills. With the traditional model of teaching math, students solve problems or do calculations in isolation and do not connect with the work. They constantly complain, “This is boring.” No wonder they do! The classwork is set up to teach isolated skills like how to divide fractions or find the perimeter of a rectangle. Even with word problems, which are supposed to present real life situations, students don’t care how long it will take for two trains to meet or how many apples Sally has left after sharing with Jose. Project Based Learning allows students to learn math skills while also learning how to communicate, make decisions, test those decisions, and revise their plan. Students will need all of these skills to flourish in the real world.
Cover the Standards
For math, there are many skills you have to teach, but with a PBL project, you don’t have to work on one standard at a time, you can combine many standards. For example, in a project about selecting four healthy meals from Teach21 Project Based Learning:
Students will Know:
• Place values between hundreds and hundredths
• Number of cups, pints and quarts in a gallon
• Components of the food pyramid
• Definition of capacity, numerator, denominator, and simplest form
• Compare whole numbers
• Compare decimals
• Convert within the customary units of measurement of capacity
• Identify equivalent fractions
• Add fractions with like and unlike denominators
• Add and subtract decimals
• Write fractions in simplest form
• Create and present a PowerPoint presentation
This involves several standards in one project. The students work on this project for several weeks, and since it is teaching so many standards, you should not rush, or feel like you are wasting time and not getting through the standards.
Choose Authentic Projects
With PBL projects, the students have to reach beyond the classroom and think about the community and the world in which they live. In math, there are many ways to do this. The students can choose almost any topic from government to finance and you, the teacher, can develop a scenario that includes many math standards. Some examples are:
Design a skate park for your community
This will involve designing the track (geometry, measurement), working out a budget (addition, subtraction, decimals, money), presenting to the city government, buying the land (perimeter, area, money) etc.
Organize an event to raise money for the local food bank or Relay for Life
This will involve planning the activities, setting a budget (money, decimals, addition, subtraction), pricing the items for the event(money, decimals, addition, subtraction), setting up the event (area, perimeter, geometry, measurment), coordinating many volunteers, etc.
Design a new, modern museum with geodesic shapes
This will involve surveying the land (measurement, area, perimeter), designing the building (geometry, addition, graphing), setting a budget (money, decimals, addition, subtraction) etc.
Present Projects to the Public
A huge part of PBL is presenting to the public. Students have to connect with the outside world. They can make presentations to local community members, send brochures, or PowerPoint presentations to city leaders, make a YouTube video, etc. The fact that they will have to speak in front of people from the community, not just the teacher, will sometimes inspire students to do their best, even if only to avoid embarrassment.
With Project Based Learning, students can feel empowered to make decisions, make mistakes, and then make it right.
If you have had a great PBL experience, we would love to hear about it. Tell us about your all of your PBL projects, the good, bad, and ugly.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/83955435@N00/2333895460″>Equivalent Fractions</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>