It’s Mathematics!: A modelling day to develop real-world problem solving
Mathematics is a basic and structural discipline of several Higher Education courses. Despite its comprehensive application to numerous real-world situations, students frequently demonstrate low levels of engagement and negative attitudes towards mathematics, which are also translated in poor achievement. In this context, teaching approaches might make the difference to engage learners’ attention and to drive them into a process of active and significant learning. The challenge here is to develop learning environments that makes mathematics an enjoyable subject, providing simultaneously a meaningful learning through the stimulation on thinking skills. One of the innovative teaching approaches that emerged under the premise of develop students’ problem-solving skills, today required in most professional areas, is the Problem-Based Learning (PBL).
The School of Management and Technology (ESTG), from Polytechnic of Porto (P.PORTO), Portugal, has numerous courses with subjects in different areas of Mathematics. The applications of Mathematics was a common students’ question present on classes. Indeed, the students related their low motivation level to the difficulty in understanding how they could use the mathematical knowledge on their professional future.
The workshop “It’s Mathematics!” consisted in a modelling day, inspired in the PBL methodology, designed to address this challenge. This event joined students from different program courses, degree levels and future professional profiles into contact with real industrial problems (or their simplifications) and also to work in groups. In small teams, and using methods, concepts and techniques from different areas of Mathematics, students worked together in order to answer these problems with the support of a teacher. This initiative was firstly motivated by the need to develop students’ awareness of the application of Mathematics in solving industrial problems, as a way to increase their motivation and engagement in their study fields. At the same time, the program aimed to train and develop problem solving, teamwork, oral and written communication. These are relevant skills for professionals in the industrial and business fields that have usually deserved less attention in traditional pedagogic methods.
Since the first edition, the students showed a good receptivity to this workshop, which was demonstrated by a great enthusiasm in the closing of the initiative. They considered the event very challenging and expressed the experience of public presentation at the end of the day as very positive. As negative aspects, they reported the feeling of pressure and the short time to solve the problems. The organization is currently discussing the extension of the experience over time, moving from a one-day experience to several days throughout the semester. To determine which problems are more appropriate for different students’ levels, in order to be sufficiently stimulating but simultaneously not overwhelming, continues to be a challenge for the organizers. In addition, there is the need to develop adequate instruments that could help on identifying and evaluating the impact of this event in a more systematic and formal way, in order to stimulate the continuous improvement of this experience.
This work was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia [SFRH/BPD/92331/2013] and by CIEd – Research Centre on Education, project UID/CED/01661/2019, Institute of Education, University of Minho, through national funds of FCT/MCTES-PT
Ano de Publicação: 2019