Monday, November 5, 2012

Are mathematicians real people?

There's a push in the United States to get more people interested in math and science in order to have leaders in these areas for the 21st-century. So I find it confusing that when I talk to some people about doing project based learning (PBL) in math there is a lot of equivocating. This seems especially true in high school mathematics courses where the content is often disconnected from what people really do on a daily basis. But if we want people to become mathematicians, why can't the project be related to the work that they do?

A Partial PBL Project Outline
(thanks to Mike Kaechele)
• Topic: Doing Mathematics
• Standards: CCSS High School: Algebra >> Arithmetic with Polynomials and Rational Expressions (this comes up as being too abstract for projects)
• Driving Question: What do mathematicians do?
• Final Product: Presentation demonstrating their ability to engage in doing math (e.g.: making connections, extending ideas, ...)
• Authentic Audience: Mathematicians

Granted, there is a lot that I don't know about PBL (though it seems a lot like the outcomes-based projects I did in the 1990s) and this particular project is in need of much more detail, but I want to gather more information about the process. Also, I didn't want to set up a bunch of straw-man arguments about PBL in math just to prove a point. I really do want to know whether doing math would be an acceptable PBL project.

1. Because I struggled to fit in a full-blown PBL in my maths teaching, I did create a few smaller ones. For example, #3 in this post where students planned a day trip. Also this one, Maths in Music

Doing maths is a good PBL project. It's making it happen that's tricky.

2. I love your questions here! I work in a PBL school and can say with confidence that the PBL approach, like any approach to teaching, is complex and multifaceted. The one thing that stands out to me about your post here is that "doing math" should be a part of EVERY project (and ANY approach to teaching math). I don't see it as something that that can/should be partitioned from the rest of our "normal" class activity. I look forward to following your thoughts on PBL here! Thanks for starting a much needed conversation about doing math.