Tag Archives: Math

The Problem with Problem Based Learning is the Problem

This term I have started a new position at Ulverstone High school teaching grade 9/10 Mathematics, Science and Physical Education, having picked up a full time contract. I have started out wanting have a different approach to Teaching and Learning within my classes. Yet how is the best way to go about this. The science classes are currently finishing off group inquiry units with their personal interests guiding the points of inquiry. Both math classes are starting new units with a clean slate for me to put my spin on how I would like them to learn.

Previously I have taught mathematics from an Instructional design standpoint. I am up front of the class leading all learning instruction through guided examples then working through the chapter and questions within the prescribed text book. Following the work set out by someone else in the department usually the head of learning area. Whenever I have read an article about deep learning and teaching for a deep understanding in Mathematics this approach is the one that is not recommended. Problem based learning is the way to go, using this approach to drive student centred learning in the class and better, deeper, and often more engaged learning environment for students.

The problem for me with problem based learning is to find the right problems. I would like to use the textbook less, following the #ditchbook movement of not using a textbook. Does that mean not using the textbook at all or just not solely relying on the textbook. One lesson can use online based resources, another a few questions from a textbook, problems from other educators and classes. Math is not a subject that I was originally trained in so the depth of knowledge to what makes a good question or problem and how each unit should be structured don’t come naturally to me. So my problem is finding the right problem, one with enough challenge for all, creating the flow of learning and learning experiences.

Designing questions and then the learning sequence appear to be my biggest challenges going forward. What are the best questions to use, can i cover multiple desired learning outcomes through 2 or 3 well chosen questions? How many questions in a session and how should that lesson flow to achieve the best sequence of activities and learning for students. Another thought is unit length, this is a tough balance between the restraints of the school term and timetable, whilst attempting to provide enough time in all units for that deep learning.

Being a new approach to the way I lead my classes and construct learning experiences for students is a challenge but one I have wanted to attempt when given the opportunity again to have a full time teaching position. Student centered learning is an approach that I have read about in many varied contexts and is talked about through many tweets and blog posts relating to student engagement and higher learning outcomes. My challenge is to learn through this and apply my ongoing learning as I progress through the term to develop better practices and habits. I hope through use, practice and being better switched on to where I want the learning to go, I will choose better problems and construct good learning opportunities for my classes.