Thursday, July 28, 2016

Doing PBL on a Spectrum

I spent last school year teaching Geometry Honors at my school with a Problem-Based Curriculum (available on Carmel Schettino's website). As I've said before, it was the most fun I've ever had teaching! As Tracy Zager talked about in her keynote at TMC, secondary teachers often forget to play with math. We get focused on algebraic ways of solving and forget that we can have fun with problems too!

As a department, we have talked about transitioning away from traditional materials and toward materials that better support students problem solving and "being puzzled and then unpuzzled," as some in the #MTBoS have termed it. As I talked about in my TMC presentation and again at the PBL Summit last week, I have consistently had a hard time seeing how someone could do "part-time PBL."

My school is very supportive of the work we have done in our GeoHon class, but also not interested in moving toward a model in which all of our classes are fully based on a PBL curriculum. So, I have been thinking a lot about where the happy medium will be for me in my other classes. (I'm teaching two sections of GeoHon, one of Alg2Hon, and one PreCalc this coming school year.)

I started to get a better idea of what that would look like today. I met with two other teachers today (one that taught Algebra 2 Honors in the past at my school and one that is teaching it this coming year as well). We talked about combing through a number of resources (Art of Problem Solving, CPM, Carnegie, Exeter, ...) and finding problems that go with each of our units.

For each unit/chapter, we'll develop a Problem Set that has mixed problems, and our goal is that none of them are the types of problems we could get from our textbook. I am envisioning my class having traditional work (maybe fewer problems) for practice, but also assigning 1-3 Problems from the Problem Set each night. When students enter the class the next day, I'll ask/someone will volunteer to put their solution on the board and they'll talk through it. It will give an opportunity for other students to share their solutions as well. In this way, part of the structure of the class will look like my Geometry Honors class (and the vast majority of students in this class took GeoHon last year). I'm hopeful that it will be a good start to introducing more thought-provoking problems in classes beyond the Geometry Honors course.

I'm also going to share all my materials - so if you have an interest in them, you can use them too! I've only started Chapter 1 (which for us is linear equations, linear inequalities, and absolute value). But as I finish them, I'll put them in my shared folder!

PLEASE let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback!


  1. I have been slowly transition to a PBL curiculum over the last two years. How much time will you allot for in-class problem solving? Or do you not see much value in the actual solving of problems in-class?

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Often, we have time in class to work on some problems (at least in my more traditional Pre-Calc class - this will be my first time teaching Algebra 2 Honors.) I could see giving students time to work together. I would definitely encourage collaboration. I value seeing their process, but I also think that when they try them at home, they are less reliant on me. I am slowly getting better at not giving hints...but I'm a work in progress!

      What do you do now in your classes?