Project-based learning: it’s an important trend in education that offers teachers and students a great opportunity for enriching the mathematics classroom experience. This type of learning involves the completion of a project, but to describe it as such really does it an injustice. These “projects” are also not long homework assignments. They stem from an over-arching problem that prompts students to ask questions that require in-depth answers. The problem must be designed so the questions formulated in response to the problem will require students to draw upon their prior learning, skills, creativity, and critical thinking to develop answers that lead to a solution to the problem. The resulting tasks of this type of experience align to a set of standards and involve real-world application as well as personal relevance to the students.

Project-based learning tasks are relevant, purposeful, and targeted.

Project-based learning tasks are relevant, purposeful, and targeted, yet open-ended enough to afford teachers tremendous flexibility in their design and use in the classroom. They present a wonderful opportunity to transform the classroom and instruction to be more student-centered. Project-based learning assignments might serve as culminating group assignments for a unit, extension assignments for GT students, individual performance-based assessments, or any other assignment the teacher deems appropriate. These types of activities offer multiple avenues for differentiating as well as showcasing student work among peers, parents, and the school community.

Project: Classroom Makeover

One of my favorite assignments is the “Classroom Makeover.” This involves groups of students forming companies (complete with names and logos) and creating proposals to remodel their math classroom. As a project-based learning task, the teacher begins with a discussion on what a student-centered classroom is, what it looks like, and why it is important. Students conduct research to gain a better understanding of the value of a student-centered classroom and to find examples. At this point, some students may take a closer look at their own classroom and compare it to what they have learned. They may begin to discuss what kinds of changes would help make their classroom more student-centered. The teacher may also pose questions like, “Is our classroom student-centered?” Or, “How can we change or improve it?” This is where students begin to get excited. Arm them with a list of allowable changes for a classroom and a budget, and they will surprise you with their creativity. Don’t be disheartened by a small or nonexistent budget, let your students innovate.

This assignment is a perfect fit for middle and high school math students as it addresses multiple standards and requires a wide variety of skills. But since it is student-driven, this project is flexible enough that it can be adapted for younger ages. Peer collaboration is an essential part of this project as students will work in groups to find solutions to the problem.

A former colleague and I facilitated this project with high school students and it was a tremendous success!

Some highlights of this project might include:

  • Researching prices (including shipping and tax) of new posters and other wall decor, an area rug, a cool comfy chair, new lamps, and a plant.
  • Calculating the surface area of the room to be painted, selecting a color scheme, determining the type and number of gallons of paint required, and computing total cost.
  • Using a coordinate plane to diagram the current layout of the classroom and then redesigning the layout on a new coordinate plane.
  • Presenting the proposals (including paint card samples, sketches, models, diagrams, and an accurate budget) to the class.

Customize Project Tasks for Learning Objectives

With a project such as this, there are numerous opportunities for students to customize the classroom environment based on their preferences and creativity—a sure way to increase engagement. This particular project can become more intensive if you wish to factor in the cost of the labor involved based on local rates, or have students build a scale model of their newly designed classroom. This type of project can be broken into smaller chunks and spread over an entire semester. It’s up to you! After students present their proposals, you may wish to have the class select one idea from each group to implement in their new classroom.

Another option is to have students complete this project as if they have an unlimited budget and can remodel everything from floors to ceiling tiles, allowing their creativity to soar. You never know—you might be surprised by their ideas. One group proposed a teacher’s desk with a built-in aquarium!

Do you have some innovative ideas for project-based learning activities? Leave a comment or tweet your ideas to @mentoringminds, and let’s talk about them!