Tips for Using PBL in the Remote Math Classroom

Teaching math in a remote classroom needs to be even more engaging than face-to-face since we are not next to our students to give them a nudge when they are off task.  One way to engage them while reinforcing our math standards and practices is by using project based learning (PBL) in the remote environment.

Defined Learning provides teachers with a library of engaging PBL tasks at all levels.  These tasks have products that are math-focused and designed for students to apply the math content standards as well as the use of math practices.  One of these tasks, which is open and free to everyone, is called Pizza Shop Owner.  This free project-based math task includes products where students will be applying their knowledge of fractions, decimals and graphing while using problem solving, reasoning and modeling.  I will use this task as an example in the tips below.


 Tips for implementing an engaging project-based math task: 

  1. Choose projects that have authentic, real-world scenarios - even better if it revolves around a career.   Tasks based on real-world problems should include math products that are open-ended; meaning there is not just one right answer to the problem or only one way to complete the product.  The Pizza Shop task includes products that owners of that business would need to consider.  One product requires students to use reasoning as well as operations with decimals to create a budget for running the shop.  Another product asks students to apply their knowledge of fractions and graphing to estimate the price they will charge customers, based on expenses and markup.
  2. Use tasks that reinforce or enrich previously taught standards.  PBL is focused on deepening students’ conceptual knowledge of content.  In addition, tasks should integrate math concepts to mimic careers.  Pizza Shop Owner integrates different areas of math - combining the use of operations with decimals, fractions, analyzing number patterns and graphing points on a coordinate plane - while also using math practices such as problem-solving and reasoning.
  3. Start with a challenging problem or question.  This will help to encourage curiosity and have students research and propose potential solutions while requiring them to think critically and logically.  If the math problem or question is relevant to the students’ lives, this will encourage them to persevere.  In our task, the students take on the role of a pizza connoisseur who wants to open a Pizza Shop specializing in unique toppings, crust styles or shapes/sizes of pies to engage students in creativity as well using a context that is familiar to them.
  4. Allow for student choice.  There are many ways to allow for student choice.  They can choose what media they will use to complete their products, the type of data they will collect, or what type of graph to create to display their findings.  They can also choose the audience for which they will be creating the products.  In our sample task, student choice is given in the type of pizzas and a variety of toppings that their shop will offer.
  5. Revision, revision, revision.  Give students the opportunity to reflect on their products and revise based on teacher or even student feedback. Once again, this mirrors the real world.  When a product is created by a person or company, they never get it “right” the first time.  New products always consist of creating a prototype and then getting feedback from others.  Changes are made based on that feedback, and this cycle may even repeat again and again until the product is good enough to be listed for sale.


Project-based learning is a great way to help students deepen their conceptual knowledge of key math concepts while using math practices to complete the products. The PBL process in a remote classroom will help combine the application of mathematics content with essential life skills such as problem-solving, modeling, and mathematical reasoning.


About the Author:

Dr. Carolyn Marchetti is a former middle and high school math teacher.  She’s held administrative positions in math and science curriculum, assessment and supervision at the district, county and state levels.  Carolyn is currently the Director of Curriculum and Training at Defined Learning.




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