Blog Post #3: Problem-Based Learning with Teaching Mathematics

Since I was a former math teacher, I was interested on employing different instructional methods that engage my students in learning process. The methods helped me to convey concepts and mathematical theories to them. I have learned more about different instructional methods, delivery mods, media attributes, etc. during my studies as a graduate student in instructional design and technology field. My major has been assisting me acquire valuable experience and applicable knowledge and skills essential for being a good teacher.

Thus, from learning and applying different instructional methods, I realize how problem-based learning (PBL) strategy is powerful strategy. PBL is derivative from Constructivism Theory that supports the idea of constructing knowledge by students through their experiences and interactions with the world, not through hearing someone gives a lecture. PBL based on this theory relies on students to think deeply and be cooperative students.  It requires students to work together to solve problems through real-world experiences. It is designed to engage all students, even those who typically struggle.

PBL usually involves four steps:

  1. Presentation of problem
  2. Group development of theories
  3. Individual development of solutions
  4. Group comparison and evaluation of solutions

I find this approach fits well with teaching math especially because students usually complain about learning math and find it boring. That because they often cannot see a connection between what they’re learning and anything that matters to them in real world. For example, some students don’t really understand math word problem when a teacher tries to explain it. However, if they were faced with a math problem in their everyday life (say, trying to figure out the solutions, asking each other questions), they might understand it better. So, a teacher can give the students math problems and have them work together to figure it out. The teacher responsibility in this scenario is to support, guide, scaffold and assist students with supplies, materials, and resources.

As a student in IDT in one of my classes, I have developed a project based on Constructivism Theory. I was thinking about a problem that can be solved by using PBL strategy. So, from my experience as a former middle math teacher I found that solving mathematical word problem was a challenge for most of my students. Sometimes students read a problem and use the operation that the class has just been practicing, or they simply guess which operation to use. So, I have designed a lesson about solving mathematical word problems. The lesson was E-learning module based on PBL. The target audience was all 6th grade students especially who are struggling with grasping the concept of mathematical word problem. In fact, the beauty of applying problem-based learning strategy in solving mathematical word problems is to connect mathematical concepts with real challenges and issues that students may face in their lives. The lesson was a good experience to me, and I have received valuable feedback form my professor.

Finally, beside the main benefit of using PBL is engaging students in the real-world experience, the students use different skills to solve the problem that are necessary for life-long success.

Thank you!!

6 Replies to “Blog Post #3: Problem-Based Learning with Teaching Mathematics”

  1. Rania, thanks for your insightful post on how to apply PBL in the field of mathematics! As an engineer who *loves* math, it is sad to me that so many young students see math as an inaccessible, boring, and difficult subject. However, without application to real-world problems, I can see how the subject matter can be dry. In my own experience, I cannot think of even a single example in which PBL was brought into my math classroom in an effective (or memorable) way. Like your students, I struggled with interpreting word problems and applying different concepts we learned in class to real-world problems. I think your PBL lesson on word problems would be invaluable to students. Were there any specific strategies you employed to help the students translate a real-world problem into a solve-able math equation?

    1. Hi Raina & Kaleigh,

      I was coming to comment to say almost just what Kaleigh did. I think that PBL is great because it can be applied to any discipline in ways that help students reach true “ah-ha!” moments that signal they are really learning something. I love hearing that you did this for teaching math to 6th graders and that you have continued to use PBL in your work. If you have any tips, we would love to hear more about what worked for you!

  2. Rania,
    Many thanks for this post. I would really like to hear more about the problem for sixth graders. My preoccupation as well is coming up with examples that apply to classrooms that are traditionally about learning potentially abstract processes for conceptualizing problems. Without having the ability necessarily to engage with contractors and industry specialists, as is the case with engineers, it seems more difficult to translate PBL learning, as helpful as it is. Your post is very helpful for thinking through how PBL may be translated to other disciplines.

  3. Hi Rania,

    The idea of using PBL in mathematics makes so much sense to me! This was a very interesting read. How would you go about selecting the problems when there’s such a wide variety of students in your class with different levels of knowledge about subjects you might pull from for problems? It could be a very good place to try and pull in some of the specific expertise of the students in your class, if you have access to the breakdown of majors, but that would also probably be a lot of work every time you were teaching the class to be able to find real-world problems from so many different disciplines that cover the same set of mathematical concepts.

  4. Thanks all for sharing your views and replying to my blog post. In fact, there are some other strategies that could be helpful for translating a real-world problem into a math equation. For example, drawing a picture helps students to transfer the abstract information to the visual information that is useful to interpret the mathematical words information. Also, making a table (organized list) could be helpful to display the information and display all mathematical operations that are given in the problem then solve it. Act the problem out (simulation) could be reached by acting the problem: using live actors, objects, materials, … etc. and other more. There are many tips to apply the PBL effectively. I can summarize them from the reading that we have for example, make the strategy engaging, set clear guidelines, group students carefully, help students learn different skills such as academic skills, cooperation skills and others. Hopefully these strategies and tips answer your questions and make sense to you.

  5. Rania, thanks for sharing your experience. I like the 4 steps that you mentioned that make up the PBL process, they are clear and make planning and designing PBL material easier. I agree with the notion that math is often perceived as boring and hard to relate to, however math is everywhere around us but we were never taught it that way, at least when I was in 6th grade! Thank you and good luck in developing more PBL in the classroom.

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