Thursday, September 15, 2011

Project Based Mathematics

Mathematics at its core has always enjoyed a very rigorous and fundamental development and curricular base.  People are now beginning to challenge that, BIG TIME.  The question I always hear is, "When am I going to use this in my life?"  Well, we may just have an answer for that in Project Based Learning.  Project Based Learning is a teaching method that involves using real life situations, scenarios, and problems to enhance the learning of the students.  It generally generates more motivation and interest in the curricular material of mathematics than does a traditional course.

Now, I admit to being a traditionalist.  Nearly everything I do is what some call "old school."  I still favor a good amount of the math curriculum to be as it has been for many, many years.  Why, you may ask?  Because math is not the only important piece of the curriculum.  We also develop logic, reasoning, and problem solving in the traditional classroom in a very rigorous manner.  So rigorous, in fact, that many students aren't even willing to try and put the work forward to learn the material.  I think this is the main problem.  We are seeing a decline in willingness to work to learn material, all masked by the question "When am I going to use this in my life?"

Project Based Math provides a good answer to that question.  To that end, I have had students eyes opened many times as to how they can use math and why it may be beneficial to them in life.  We have done projects related to construction, mini golf, fishing, guns and ammo, clothing, birth and death rates (anything with published data, really), airfare, cell phones, fundraisers, satellites, population growth, Fire (Ruben's Tube, see project ideas soon for update/video), sprinkler systems, fireworks, art, history, movies, and the list goes on.  Recently, a project of mine called Combat Fishin'! won a state award from Alaska Society for Technology in Education ( and national award for technology and extending learning from Microsoft's Innovative Educator Forum (  I next head to Microsoft's WorldWide Educator Forum to compete for recognition in Washington DC Nov 7-10.

I am seeing some fantastic results integrating BOTH styles of teaching into my classroom.  Our state test scores have come up nearly 20 points in my 3 years at Highland Tech Charter School in Anchorage, Alaska. We are now above and beyond the scores of many of the traditional schools.  I admit that I do see a better work ethic at HTH, but you can also give a lot of credit to the projects because they help engage and motivate students.

My conclusion:  If the students work hard, no matter the curriculum, good results will follow suit.  But, if they are taught with PBL, they go away with a much deeper understanding of the applications of mathematics, which matters most to them.

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