PBL in Math

Working wiser is important to me as a teacher, therefore when it came to what to do for my course 5 project I had two choices. I really wanted to gamify one of my classes, whereby I use, for example, Classcraft. However, as I was looking at my math units, I knew I was missing the part where students could demonstrate the transfer of their learnt skills / knowledge to solve authentic problems. I believe in fate, and as I embarked on my second NESA chat on twitter, someone shared some math resources they found great. It was a eureka moment for me, right time, right place. One resource in particular was Robert Kapinsky’s website. I lost myself in reading his blogs, looking at his resources and for me the penny dropped. This was the last piece I needed to add to my unit – authentic problem based activities which would totally engage my students and show whether they truly understood the concepts learnt. So, I modified a unit by adding PBL as a form of formative assessment.

I have two worries about redesigning this unit. The first, and for me the major one, is that I have included too much PBL. Even though the activities will be formative, I wonder if you can get too much of a good thing? Therefore, like all teaching, modifications to the unit will be made along the way depending on the student’s needs and if the resources are achieving their intended purpose. Also at this stage, most of my PBL activities are coming from 2 or 3 major sources, which is fine, as they meet my objectives for the unit. However, for the future I want to continue to search out further sites that may have great resources for other math units I am developing, plus I would like to begin to create my own. – when time is on my side!!

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from me was a hard one to answer. I think it is ensuring I have a bank of good question stems that I can use to guide my students to deeper thinking about the problem, or to find alternative ways to solve a problem if they are stuck, so that the solutions always come from them through their discussions with their peers / research and use of resources. Also for me, this unit is making me aware to look critically at the depth of knowledge (DOK) I am actually asking for in the type of activities I am offering my students. I need to ensure the activities are graded from easy, through to the DOK third tier, which I hope they will achieve as they build mastery of their basic skills.

The problem based learning of this unit, will need the students to apply both their new skills and prior mathematical knowledge, to solve authentic problems. It is going to require my students to work collaboratively with their peers over an extended period of time. Currently they work with their peers, but the problems they work on can be solved within short amounts of time and aren’t necessarily multilayered. This is going to require them to actively listen to each other, and explain their thinking and understandings, both orally and in written mathematical form. Therefore the students will need to be flexible and have a growth mindset to be prepared to change or modify their initial thinking based off what they have heard from their peers. I also really want my students to be comfortable and have self confidence to realize their point of view is important. I want this to reinforce for them the idea that different perspectives brought to interpreting a problem often leads to more creative solutions.

For me I am excited to implement this unit, as I believe being a problem solver is a skill all students need now and in the future. As I re-read this post I haven’t really mentioned the use of technology, as for me it is just part of our class, it is a tool used by me for so many things, and it is a tool used by my students as a resource of information, games, and for sharing, to name a few. Technology is used effortlessly as part of our everyday class, which to me, is how it should be used.

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3 Responses to PBL in Math

  1. Hi Bettina!

    Your post caught my eye and got me thinking about how I can incorporate PBL into the STEM classroom. I took a look through Kaplinsky’s site link to robertkaplinsky.com and loved the Problem Solving Framework. I think it would be hugely beneficial to use these with small groups of students during a confer. I think it offers a scaffold with simple language for kids. I am thinking about trying it with my 4th and 5th graders in an upcoming STEM unit since the NGSS engineering standard looks at using a budget.

    link to jaymctighe.com has tons of PBL resources too. I especially like the YouCubed site and have found a lot of great resources on it in the past.

    I’m excited to see how your unit pans out! Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks Disha – I couldn’t agree more – there is a time and place for everything!

    • Thanks Amy – pleased the framework may be helpful. I posted the questions in my classroom as a reference for my students, so I will see if it becomes part of their process and vocabulary. Thanks for the site recommendations – I am onto them!


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