Problem Based Learning – A Terrifying Journey

Do you use Problem Based Learning in your #math classrooms? I'm going to try with college level Finite Math! learned about Problem Based Learning (and it’s mom, Project Base Learning) this weekend at EdCamp Waller.

This method looks like a great way to get students involved – really involved!

Grownups in math classes have been uninvolved for more than a decade. So I’ve decided to try problem based learning in my next college class: Finite Math.

What is Problem Based Learning?

Problem based learning is a student centered style of learning where students learn by solving problems (instead of being lectured).

I’m new to it (that’s an understatement) so that’s about the only definition I have. Hopefully I’ll grow a better understanding of it as I continue on my journey.

What I understand about it is this:

  1. The instructor presents an ill-defined problem.
  2. The students work in groups to solve it.
  3. The instructor answers questions, guides and gives “lectures” on material as requested.
  4. The students end up with a deeper understanding (and appreciation) of the material.

I’m scared.

I’ve been teaching the same way for 18 years.

I’m a pretty old dog. And switching methodologies is a new trick.

So digging into this is scary.

Actually, it’s terrifying.

I’m gonna mess up. A lot.

Chris Fancher the PBL expert at EdCamp this weekend said, “You’re going to mess up. A lot.”

And strangely, that’s what I tell students. And it’s okay to mess up. For them and for me.

So I’m going to embrace this.

Every time I mess up, I’m going to go read the “daring greatly” quote by Roosevelt.

I’ll probably cry, worry and freak out a little.

Then I’ll keep going on my journey.

I have to be all in.

I know me. Three days into class I’ll want to say, “Well, this isn’t working like I thought it would – let’s go back to lecture.”

Doing this would be a huge fail.

It’ll feel safe. But it’ll be in service to me – not to the students.

So I have to be all in.

No excuses. No turning back. And no hesitation.

So I’m pushing the chips across the table. I’m standing up. And I’m saying, “I’m all in!”

Welcome to the game!

Will you come along for the ride?

This is the first in the series… But of course I don’t know what will come next. So I’ll just come back and link here as they happen!

If you have any resources or thoughts, will you share them? Drop them in the comments and don’t forget to share this on twitter.

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5 Responses to Problem Based Learning – A Terrifying Journey

  1. This sounds challenging and exciting! Will “requested lectures” still involve Math Talks? Sounds like the two concepts could really dovetail beautifully!

  2. I am finishing my first year of teaching, and while I have tried mini versions of PBL throughout my teaching, I am really excited to go all in next year. I think the challenge is in developing deep problems that are worth solving. Problems that aren’t the standard “application” types from the books, but ones that are genuine and authentic. Interesting challenges that offer an exploration of a variety of topics.

    The other challenge I anticipate is aligning these problems to the state assigned curriculum. It will be different, but I’m excited to see how far I can take it.

  3. I am so proud of you taking this step. Stick with it. Get your students to give you feedback about what they liked or didn’t like about it. Keep us posted on how it goes so we can give you moral (or even tangible) support. Hope to see you at another Edcamp (San Antonio, Ft.Worth, Dallas) or ISTE or CAMT or…wherever.

  4. When it comes to math, I would learn so much faster this way! I think it is probably the best way to teach it – I learn so much more by doing then by just listening. Good luck!

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