Problem Based Learning in Math

"If you've got a problem, yo, I'll solve it." - Vanilla Ice

Just as Project Based Learning is different from Project Oriented Learning (Student learn by doing, not construct after learning), Problem Based Learning is different than simply solving "word problems." Problem Based Learning is when learning happens through the exploration of possible solutions to problems. Sometimes there is one correct answer, often there are multiple correct answers, and at times there is no concrete correct answer. In all cases, the final answer is less important than the learning that happens during the problem solving process. Just as penicillin, rubber, Coca-Cola, and teflon were discovered by accident, the discoveries of students during the Problem Based Learning process are not always expected and often deviate from the direction the teacher may have intended. The key to the success of Problem Based Learning is the development of creativity, love of learning, the ability to learn from failure, and critical thinking skills.

One of the biggest mistakes made by teachers when trying to use Problem Based Learning is to provide the students with websites, handouts, resources, and other materials before allowing them to work on the problem being explored. Part of the beauty of PBL is for students to learn the critical skills of research and finding information that they need to solve problems as they arise. Giving students materials ahead of time hinders them in developing those skills. Remember - the value in PBL is in the learning that takes place during the process, not just the final product.

The teacher's role in the process is to be the students' guide. Ask questions that lead students in directions they may not see at first. Ask "why?" Make sure the logistics are taken care of so that students are in the best environment to learn. (grouping, availability of technology, ways for students to communicate outside of school, etc.)

The Three Act Lesson from Dan Meyer


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