Using Webquests in the Math Classroom
Math classrooms often get bogged down in being overly simplistic. Teach a skill, practice a skill, show that you understand a skill.
But math is one of the best places to incorporate problem based learning. Math is all about solving problems, and the skills you teach your students in class are the skills they need to solve those problems.
Webquests are a great way to use technology to guide students through a problem based learning task, provide them with resources to scaffold the process, and have them demonstrate a greater depth of learning. Maybe students can use geometry to design buildings, or they can use statistics to predict the outcomes of events. Once you come up with a solid task, you've got a great project and a great webquest.
What Are Webquests?
If you don't know what webquests are, here's the 30 second version. They're an instructional planning framework for Internet-based problem-based learning. A self-contained website guides students through a series of pages, each one designed to help them complete their task.
Traditionally, there are five parts to a webquest.
- The intro sets the stage. It's like an anticipatory set. Grab the students' attention and reel them in.
- The task defines what the students are going to do. In a math class, this should be a problem-based task that involves using skills to solve a problem.
- The process explains, in a clear, organized manner, how students should complete their task. It also provides students with the resources necessary to complete their task.
- The evaluation details how students are going to be assessed, for example with a rubric.
- The conclusion brings the activity to a close, but it offers students a way to extend their learning and continue their work on this problem or topic.
You can find a more in depth discussion of what a webquest is in this article on Yahoo.
Examples of Webquests for Math Classrooms
Perhaps the most important part of a webquest is devising a task that is problem based. With a little creativity, this shouldn't be hard for a math classroom. I would start by thinking about a) what skills do I want students to demonstrate and then b) how can students use those skills and demonstrate that they've mastered them?
Some specific math skills aren't very useful in the broader scheme of things. But most math concepts are useful and important; otherwise what the heck are we doing in math class?
One example is this budget webquest about planning a dream vacation. The students' task is to plan a vacation and then determine how much it will cost, through judicious planning and budgeting. The idea of the task is solid, and with a few modifications you can make it even better.
For example, give students a budget of $3,000. Then let them plan their vacation. Or, have students guesstimate the cost in the beginning and then compare their estimate to their outcome. These types of activities are perfect for middle or lower high school classrooms. They may not target specific skills tightly, but they revolve around number sense, skills of estimation, and general math know-how.
This area and perimeter webquest is an example of a more tightly focused assignment. In this project, students must design a house and figure out how much they need in building materials. Along the way, they practice their skills of determining area and perimeter. Ultimately, these skills are essential in drawing up their plans and assessing their needs.
This is a great example of an authentic task that tightly targets a specific set of skills. It's not quite so open and inquiry oriented as the budget example, but it's still authentic enough to be interesting. And it certainly gets at the skills you're trying to teach: how to calculate perimeter and how to calculate area.
Get Started Using Webquests
Now that you have an idea of what webquests are and how they can be incorporated into your math classroom, you should go ahead and get started!
The two examples above are just a few of the thousands of webquests available for free on the Internet. You can find more on this RSS feed. Unfortunately, there are a tons of crappy webquests out there, so you may need to spend some time sorting the good from the bad.
Or, you can make your own! It's not that hard. In fact, I'll be writing a hub about that in the future... so subscribe to this hub and check back in a few weeks!