Salmon Tracking: Problem-Based Learning in Math

I had the opportunity to work with a handful of math teachers in our district this last week to create a problem-based unit.  The catalyst was the result of a paradox: an emphasis on problem solving vs. the time to teach the vast math standards at the depth of knowledge required.  We are experts at teaching procedural fluency.  Some of us try to incorporate conceptual understanding – if there is time.  Few, if any, of us incorporate an application piece – again because of time.

So a question surfaced: What if we created a problem-based unit that would allow us to bring balance to our instruction?  

After getting principal approval by way of funding, we met to try our hand at creating a problem-based learning unit.

As luck would have it, earlier this week Robert Kaplinski wrote a blog titled, “Problem-Based Learning FAQ.”  It referenced some of my concerns,  like how long to spend on an application problem (1-2 days at each end of the unit).  And what about the procedural fluency (“equal intensity“)?  He even suggested that our time should NOT be spent CREATING these problems.  Instead, he gives several sites with problems ready to use (here).

I’m hooked (pun intended).

The unit we drafted incorporates a fair balance of procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and application.  It is likely not the way the problem-based gurus of our day (i.e. Kaplinsky, Emergentmath, etc) would have planned the unit, but we were happy with the outcome – especially since it was our first go-round.  We feel like it’s better than what we’ve done before.

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  • It’s more engaging.
  • It allows for the whole class to share a common background story.
  • It will not take as long to teach the targets as the pacing guide has suggested.
  • It is both content and practice standards-based.

If you are curious about trying your hand at creating or implementing some problem-based learning, shoot me an email.  Let’s give it a go together!


3 thoughts on “Salmon Tracking: Problem-Based Learning in Math

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