Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I'm thinking Problem Based  Learning, this week's GEDI topic, is a double edged sword. The idea is to have students work on complex problems based in part, or in full, on real life topics. One of this weeks reading's noted the importance of Problem Based Learning in medical schools, which makes sense. Yeah I want a doctor to have memorized everything about medicine, it just makes sense, but if that doctor can't apply that knowledge, their customer faces higher chance of mortality. 

Ok, yeah, let's get students to start thinking differently about problems that way we have competence in our working class. STOP. 

While I agree the concept is great, the actual practice gets a little more complex, and it reminds me of a TERC math scenario in the making. What's TERC? It is Investigations in Numbers, Data, and Space. What does it do? The idea is basically to teach people to teach themselves. Sounds great right? It is... kinda....not really.

As you can imagine, parents love it.

As you can imagine, the people and corporations that fund higher education, want their investment to pay off, and that means successful classroom instruction. Problem based learning could be great, but it implies that the approach being examined by the student is correct. Sometimes the way we do things will be wrong. We shouldn't teach people to do things incorrectly, but that is where Problem Based Learning opens the door.


  1. I'm no math wiz but about a minute into the TERC explanation and I had no idea what was going on. I don't know how anyone could keep track of the numbers that way, and it looks like that method is terribly prone to error. I think I'll stick with the old tried and true method on this one!

  2. While I can't testify to the efficacy of the TERC curriculum, all of the methods shown in the Math Education video seemed valid to me. [I'll admit the lattice method seems a bit odd.] Growing up we used the traditional as well as cluster methods for mathematics, and they have served me well as a basis for my mathematical understanding. People often react negatively to the unfamiliar, and that seems to be the case here. I don't have anything against the traditional methods, but saying they are the only proper way to do math seems narrow-minded at best.

    In my experience, the cluster method is rather quick and was my preferred method during math competitions during high school. What works for one student may not for another, so I can't see the downside to giving kids more tools they can use to solve problems. While a one size fits all approach to education is more convenient for teachers and parents, it is not necessarily the best for the understanding of the student.

    While Ms. McDermott seems to think that her colleagues were insufficiently prepared for calculus because of "reformed math," I think it is more likely this occurred because the current educational system is focused on pushing people through whether they understand the material or not. This is a problem whatever method you are using to solve your math problems, but one would expect by expanding the methods being taught, more students would be able to actually learn the material and not just get funneled to the next grade level at the end of the year.