# My first attempt at PBL

## January 21, 2024 | Background

This semester, I've been assigned to teach one section of Finite Math and Applications, which is an uncoordinated math course for non-science majors. Typically, the course covers material related to Graph Theory, Voting Theory, and Probability using a series of discovery activities.

Since beginning education-based research, I've been periodically doing free online courses and taking deep-dives into pedagogical strategies. One that really caught my attention was Edpuzzle's Project-Based Learning (PBL) course. After watching the videos, it made me think about how to best teach students who probably don't have a great history with math classes or who want to stay as far away from math as possible. To me, the way to do that is to have them tie math (which doesn't interest them) to something they're really interested in, and hopefully, they'll learn some math along the way.

So, this semester, I'm basing the Finite Math course around a semester-long project in which each student will relate math to something they like. At the end of the semester, this will culminate in a short research paper and science-fair type exhibition. It's a couple of weeks in now, and so far, I've received great feedback from the students, but we'll see how it goes. If the papers go really well, maybe I can work in a mini-publishing experience as well. Who knows.

Throughout this semester, I plan to periodically post updates on how this idea ends up. But right now, the plan is really great in my head!

If you've never heard of PBL, I highly recommend Edpuzzle's free course as a nice introduction. It is available at https://edpuzzle.com.

## January 28, 2024 | The Money Talk & A Couple of Highlights

This week, a couple of things. First, I read my students' reflections on our Personal Finance lesson. Second, many of my students are diving headfirst into their projects - Yay!

The personal finance lesson discussed Credit Cards, High-Yield Savings Accounts, and IRAs. I gave the class different financial scenarios, and they worked in groups to recommend products for the hypothetical people using resources on NerdWallet. They got really into it - Imagine a room of 45 18–20-year-olds arguing about interest rates! What a sight!

The most important thing about that day was the casual mathematical discourse happening. Remember, a lot of these students don't like math. That's why they're not STEM majors. I think bringing up this topic made them realize that whether they like it or not, math can be really useful in our everyday lives - and most importantly, DON'T wait until you're 35 to start an IRA.

For homework, they had to reflect on the finance lesson - whether they felt comfortable talking about these topics with family and friends and if they planned to use what they had learned to inform their own finances. Many of them reported talking to their parents after class, some said they would like to do more research, and a couple talked about opening up HYS accounts and IRAs as soon as they got done calling their parents.

This taught me that it is possible to get students who have a negative outlook on math to appreciate its value and instill some curiosity about how math can help improve their lives (financially at least).

This week in class, we learned a bit about Graph Theory, paired with How to Read Mathematics. I started class on Tuesday by having the students explore in small groups a textbook from my personal collection. These ranged both in publication year (1950s-2000s) and subject (High School Algebra to Graduate-Level Mathematics). We discussed how the way mathematicians communicate through writing hasn't changed much in 70 years, but it is a little different depending on the mathematical maturity of the audience.

Then, as a class, we tackled the first couple of pages in Chartrand, Lesniak, and Zhang's Graphs and Digraphs, which was my master's Graph Theory textbook. The students volunteered some words they didn't understand, and as a group, I explained how we could use context clues to understand definitions, even if they contained many unfamiliar words. We also discussed the importance of mathematical definitions (and accompanying figures) as a way for mathematicians to verbalize abstract ideas.

Then, we talked about Theorems, and one student asked if Theorems are like mathematicians' thesis statements. That was one of the best moments in my six years of teaching!

Thursday, we continued the theme of graphs, but I taught them how to start drawing and analyzing graphs in yEd, because why not? We started with counting nodes and edges and progressed to running a basic centrality analysis. Then, they just played around with the software for the rest of the class. Once we were done with the main lesson, one student, who was planning to do her project on Puzzle Boxes, approached me with an idea for her project (Side note - I couldn't find anything that's been done connecting math to Puzzle Boxes, but they seem inherently mathematical). She asked if she could use graphs to model her Puzzles, and I replied "YES! PLEASE DO!" Let me tell you, it's a great moment as a teacher when a young math student comes up with an original idea.

Next week, I plan to teach about Data Visualization and the students will be finalizing their project topics.

Images created by Microsoft Designer. (It struggles with words - lol.)

## March 14, 2024 | Pi Day Artwork

After a tough Tuesday (we worked on writing proofs), my students spent Pi Day drawing mathematical sidewalk chalk drawings outside Parker Hall. It was a little warm, but everyone had a great time!

## April 28, 2024 | Postchella 2024

The culmination of the students' projects was a three-day mini conference they named "Postchella". Some students volunteered to have their work showcased on a class website, linked below.