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PBL in the Math Classroom

by Ruth Handal, Escuela Internacional Sampedrana


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How can we make students become aware that they are responsible for their own learning?  How can we as educators help them become more independent and self-conscious of their learning?

One way to do so is using PBL (Problem-based learning).  PBL is student-centered and allows the students to learn from experiencing with real world problem solving situations.  They will learn how to reason beyond their knowledge and think deeper by using the skills that were previously taught in the class.


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Some of the goals for PBL are to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills and strategies, and make them become independent and responsible for their own learning.  The educator or teacher becomes the facilitator, the guide, but it will be the student who will think and come up with the solution to the problem.

In our classroom PBL has become very popular.  As teachers it has given our students the opportunity to learn from what they do.  Once we are done teaching the skills and the knowledge that is required, we just need to setup a real world situation where the students will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned and help them come up  with their own conclusions.  These real world situations and problems are presented to our student as a performance task or group project.  The students will become part of a situation by playing a particular role in a certain project and they  will be responsible to solve it  the way they consider best for the presented situation and  apply the skills  what they have previously learned.

PBL has helped us a lot in our classrooms.  This student-centered pedagogy has given us the opportunity to see how our students become more engaged with the subject and with their learning.


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The seventh and eighth graders had the opportunity to become writers.  They were given the task to write their Mathography (Math Biography).  This experience not only allowed us as teachers to get to know our students better, but also allowed them as student to become aware of what they liked or disliked and helped them set goals on how to become better in the future.


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The “Mathography” project consists of students creating a biography of themselves as mathematicians, they would write an autobiography describing their previous experiences in Math, along with any strengths and areas of improvement. They displayed their “Mathography” using illustrations and written work on a piece of construction paper and some went beyond that. The 8th graders also filled out their very own Math Profile, which consisted of a set of questions that would lead the teacher to really see how the student views math and what obstacles they need to overcome in order to raise the bar.


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8th grader Katia Jarufe gave her opinion of the Mathography project:

“I personally liked doing the Mathography project and it was a really good idea to do it at the beginning of the year. It did mean something to me because we had recently met you (Mr. Bocock) and it was a way of you knowing us better. I think that it is important because most teachers when they meet the grade of students they are going to have for the year, they like to know more about that person, and also knowing about them benefits the teacher and student because if the kid is struggling, the teacher can help him or her. I think that the Mathography Project is a really good way for teachers to have a better knowledge of your students. I did like doing this project, and hope that my teachers of ninth grade do it at the beginning of the 1st Bimester involving their specific class, like this project did for math, so they can know us better.”

Another 8th grader Gisselle Wolozny said:

“My experiences with Mathography have been really good so far. I’ve been doing it for about 3 years in a row now. I think it’s a great way for teachers to see what are the student’s strengths and difficulties. Therefore, the teacher will know in what areas they should mainly focus. It’s also good because it asks the student in which ways does he or she learn best. In that way, teachers may teach us students in ways that makes it much easier to understand. It’s a fun project because we get to incorporate some of our personal lives and creativeness in a fun and effective way.”

Samantha Handal also gave feedback:

“The Mathography project is like an autobiography but of math as it describes your experiences with math everywhere, not just in school. That is the definition of the Mathography, but for me it means something else. For me it means that the teacher cares about the student so much that they ask us how we are in math. So with that information they help us. Mathography is not just a project for me. It’s the way I can tell the teacher without feeling nervous that math is not my best strength and write all it there. The importance of this project is priority for the teacher of math so they can help us overcome our weakness. In conclusion the Mathography project is a fun, important, and necessary project for all the math teachers to do every year.”
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