If There Was a Problem….

Created in Canva.com calculator image By Asimzb (Own work) [CC BY-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Created in Canva.com. Calculator image By Asimzb [CC BY-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue to the Ice Ice Baby theme that Joe Teft started!

What is PBL?

I think that I had always thought of PBL as project based learning and not problem based learning,  so this week’s topic has clarified a lot of things for me. Josh Sadek’s post includes a couple of short videos that attempt to explain the difference between project BL and problem BL. I think I’d explain each of the PBLs as:

Problem Based Learning can be presented as a smaller task that we can achieve quite easily in just one class by posing a problem that needs to be solved (but without specific information about how to solve it). 

Project Based Learning tends to have a wider and more “real world” approach and it would probably be more meaningful if there was some interdisciplinary aspect, current events and a genuine need/purpose.

Suzie Boss is a big name in the Project BL world and we’ve been lucky to have had Suzie Boss visit Graded School this year (and she’ll be here again for Innovate 2015 – will you?). She recently wrote an article about the Project BL myths and I feel that I can actually apply most of them to what I would have considered to be problem based learning. So is the confusion mine or are we all getting our p’s crossed?

You can’t really have Project BL without Problem BL but the reverse is not true.

Because of this I think that introducing problem based learning into your classroom is much more achievable and perhaps the first step toward project based learning. Perhaps I am over simplifying things but this series of videos from Edutopia reminded me of the size and impact of project BL when compared to problem BL. Check out the first in the series:


Problem BL in my maths classroom.

I have just finished a week long investigation task with my 9th grade students where we hurled Barbies (and one Ken and one Optimus Prime) off high ledges with rubber bands tied to their legs. The old Barbie Bungy Math Investigation. The project here is to find out the relationship between height and the number of rubber bands. The project required students to spend three lessons doing a series of trials at a range of heights in an attempt to find an equation (or not). The project was collaborative, tech infused and aligned to the standards. But this project is an example of problem BL and not project BL – I’m totally ok with that and actually feel better understanding the difference.


You will find task sheets like this one all over the internet – note the exhaustive amount of procedures and explanations. Not much room for individual problem solving! This was the first time that I had done the Barbie Bungy task with students and I took advice from Dan Meyer and Fawn Ngyun and removed all procedural information and step-by-step guides. Basically I gave the kids a Barbie and a packet of rubber bands and I said “Next week your Barbie will have one jump from a secret location. You need to keep her alive!”

We had already covered linear graphs but we hadn’t even touched on linear regression or lines of best fit. By the end of day two almost all groups had created tables and/or graphs of height v rubber bands and they were exploring these ideas.  When we start to talk about “real world” mathematics sometimes we can get too carried away. This task isn’t “real world” in the sense that someday my students will need to know how to bungy jump with rubber bands but it is “real world” because I was able to get them excited and engaged and competitive enough to be motivated to solve the problem. Problem based learning to me is about creating a problem that students want to solve and then giving them the time to solve it.

Bring on the technology

I incorporated technology into this task by having the kids report out on their findings through their blogs. At the start of each lesson the students would share their blog post with a peer and then we’d do a whole class share out of some highlights. I have recently converted to Android but man alive was I jealous of the slow mo camera on the new iPhones! At the start of lesson two the kids were bringing in GoPros and cameras and were really making this into a multi media extravaganza!

We all got a little obsessed with iMovie this week!

I need to talk to Nic about copyright…


2 comments to “If There Was a Problem….”
2 comments to “If There Was a Problem….”
  1. Wish my assignment sheets looked like yours when I was in high school!

    Did I ever point you towards Rebekah Madrid’s blogpost about Problem Based Learning? https://rebekahmadrid.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/sustainabilty-and-inquiry-asking-questions-failing-and-learning/ I found it a very interesting project, though not math-based. It was more physics-based. The students were challenged to solve a real-world problem for the school. It wasn’t a project to be completed in one day, though. I always think back to it, when I am tempted to confuse project based learning to problem based learning.

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