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Can maths be taught via PBL?

By Murray Bourne, 03 Dec 2004

I have thought a lot about whether it is appropriate to teach maths (or lots of other technical subjects) using a Problem Based Learning approach.

It comes down to the basic question - do we want students to be able to pass maths exams (which are always of the 'use this formula, plug in these numbers, get the same answer as mine, you pass' variety. OR do we want engineers who can actually use mathematics as a tool to solve problems? The problem is, almost everyone has to do mathematics - but very few people ever see the beauty of how it can be used - it is usually just an "algebra sandwich".

So if we put away many of the algebraic processes (and let software do that for us - and better) and spend some time thinking through interesting problems and then learning the maths that we really need to learn to solve that problem, isn't this more like 'real' learning that we have done since we were kids?

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  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
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    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
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