When working with educators to implement project based learning (PBL) in their districts/schools/classrooms, the one subject area that is consistently met with hesitation is math. On a regular basis, math teachers (across all grade levels) ask something to the effect of, “Yeah, this is great. But how does it work in math class?”
Here are two reasons why I believe this skepticism may exist:
- Math textbooks are the curriculum, when they shouldn’t be. From my experiences, math is the subject area in which teachers are most likely to march through the textbook from beginning to end, treating the book as if it’s the curriculum (and yes, I have been guilty of this mistake). In reality, the textbook is one tool or resource that a teacher should leverage to meet the needs of students. However, veering away from the textbook (potentially in the direction of PBL) can be uncomfortable.
- Math is inaccurately viewed as black and white. In other words, answers are either right or wrong, and a deep conceptual understanding of content simply doesn’t matter (or, for one reason or another, it’s not even on the teacher’s radar). And therefore, PBL (which is commonly leveraged to promote deep conceptual understanding), on the surface appears to be nothing but a roundabout way to get to the same old answers. So, why bother with it?
So, what does project based learning look like in math class?