Hearing “Project Based Learning” can cause many math teachers to cringe. Math, more than any other subject, has a prescribed structure. Because of this, many teachers feel they don’t have time to teach through projects. Also, designing a project around standards can seem overwhelming for already busy teachers. Many projects seem to use math for only calculations, rather than supporting mathematics standards and inquiry. The NCTM Principles and Standards support inquiry, which can be addressed through projects. The new Common Core State Standards emphasize how things work versus just getting an answer.
Research shows that students often have trouble applying their mathematical knowledge outside of the classroom. The application problems from textbooks are contrived and lack substance. Who looks at their friend in a tree and wonders about the angle of elevation? Project-based learning (PBL) encourages students to think critically and emphasizes inquiry. Students work in small groups to solve messy, real life problems.
For teachers just getting their feet wet with PBL, it may not be the best use of their time to implement it during a short unit. However, some units are longer, and last several weeks. These longer units are a perfect opportunity to try something new. Math teachers, I present you with a challenge. Find something you are willing to teach through a project. Start small. Don’t reinvent the wheel – there are so many resources online that you can adapt to fit your students. Find your own definition of project-based learning.
- In my geometry classes, students designed a playground. They were given a budget, a plot of land, and a list of playground equipment required. Students then had to research the cost and size of each piece of equipment and place it in their park. They also had to calculate the amount of grass and sand needed. Then, they made a scale diorama or drawing of their park to present to the city council.
- In my algebra 2 classes, students were given a budget to buy a new car. Then they had to research the different types of loans and current interest rates. After they chose a loan, they had to calculate the monthly payment and total cost of the car. When they finished, they graphed their results and presented to the class.
Not quite ready to tackle this yourself? Check out the resources below. They can be adapted to your student’s abilities and your comfort level.
- Dan Meyer has some great 3-act math lessons aligned to CCSS. Students are presented with a very short video proposing a real life problem, and then they are given guiding questions to help them solve that problem. Once they have decided on a solution, they can watch another very short video explaining a solution. The teacher is given questions for discussion as a “sequel”.
- Teach21 has a bank of complete lesson plans with standards, learning targets, and resources planned. You can search by course.
- Worchester Polytechnic Institute Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statisticshas some fantastic ideas for projects also sorted by course.
- Mrs. O’s House has some great ideas and resources.
Mrs E Teaches Math is a math teacher in Texas. She has taught classes from algebra to statistics. You can find her blog at Mrs. E Teaches Math.