For decades now, the educational system in the United States has slowly declined. We have been passed up decisively by many countries especially in the content area of mathematics. The educational system has evolved very little in comparison to American culture since the 1950’s. Many mathematics’ teachers employ the same methods that were used to teach their grandparents.
It is no secret that today’s learner is much different than those of decades past, but the educational system has been evolving at a glacier-melting pace. Millions and millions of dollars have been thrown into programs to help struggling students or to re-train teachers. Many of these programs have had a minimal long lasting impact. Project based learning is one of those programs that has always kind of been around, but it has gained a lot of steam in the last 15 years.
Project based learning is a student-centered, problem-based approach that provides intrinsic motivations for students that often struggle to make the connection of what they are learning and how it will be helpful to them in the next phase of their life. This method is a polar opposite approach to the rote memorization methods that many math teachers use in their classrooms. Students are actively involved in small groups solving application problems that matter to them. Rather than telling students why a formula works the way it does, students discover for themselves these shortcuts on their own.
The greatest benefit to this type of learning is that it provides students with confidence when they later on encounter a problem that is not identical to one that has previously been presented in class. Students develop problem solving and critical thinking skills that are often lacking in your typical Algebra and Geometry high school courses.
In those “traditional” math classrooms, students may work out 30 different examples demonstrating the same math skill, but if a slight variation of that problem shows up much later down the road their skills will prove to me insufficient in most of the cases. The biggest impact project based learning has in a mathematics’ classroom is the improved problem solving abilities of the students.
Their are many different websites devoted to lesson plans involving secondary math topics, but it is often a good idea to try and develop a project idea of your own. Don’t worry about making it perfect the first time because it will never quite get there. Concentrate on developing a project involving a particular skill and refine it the next time you implement the lesson.
The biggest traps that teachers fall into when developing these lessons is they are not content rich. Teachers make the mistake and place to much emphasis on the creativity of the projects and not enough on demonstration of mastering a set of skills. While it is great to encourage the creativity because it excites the students about the projects, it should not be the heaviest weight of their project’s grade. Just always keep in mind what you want the students to learn when developing a project and the creativity part is usually taken care of by the students in the end.