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Low & No Cost Math PBL Resources

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning seem to be all the rage these days in Math Education.

I'm going to be really honest.

I'm not sure they're the most effective resources for students who have been historically unsuccessful in Mathematics and I hear the same sentiment from teachers I work with all the time. My main issue with PBL and more exploratory based curriculum specifically for 7-12th graders who struggle with math is that it's hard to apply concepts you've never built. Students who have failed math for multiple years lack math confidence and have a lot of math anxiety. I'm not sure that PBL and exploratory math curricula is a good fit for students who need to develop that confidence first.

However, the other week I had an experience that has helped change my mind and see the value of PBL math resources in some situations.

I've been supporting Colorado Department of Education Facility Schools since 2020. If you're unfamiliar with a "Facility School" it's a school - sometimes located within a hospital - where students receive mental health services along with education. They might be on a mental health hold for 72 hours at this facility or they might be ordered there for 3+ months. But only this year, 2023, did I finally get to visit a facility school and observe in a classroom in person.

The observation day was... HARD.

I've always prided myself in having taught in challenging neighborhoods like South Central Los Angeles and having taught challenging kids like high school math intervention. But nothing prepared me for what I saw on observation day. Mental health challenges are a different ball game than any "challenging" student I've ever come across. If I'm being honest, it tugged at my heart strings to see so many kids so depressed.

What blew me away were all 3 teachers I got to observe. They all had different approaches and slightly different settings, but they were all doing their absolute best for our most vulnerable kids. In my coaching sessions the next day with the 3 teachers, they shared their hopes for our work together this semester. They all wanted lessons that connect to kids passions, lessons that are ready to go - they have no time to prep, lessons that can span grade levels since they have 12-17 year olds all in the same classroom. Given the teachers needs and the fact that the kids are constantly in and out of the facility, it became clear that problem based activities were going to be the best for them. So even though PBL isn't my forte or my favorite, I do know of a lot of PBL resources that I was excited to share with those teachers and now with you in the blog post.

5 Best No or Low Cost Math PBL Resources

Social Injustice

If your student population is interested in using mathematics to analyze social injustices like gerrymandering of voting districts, the gender pay gap, and finding out how many meals minimum wage can really buy... you'll want to check out this book (co-authored by a colleague of mine from grad school at UCLA!) which can be purchased on Amazon for about $35. The title is Mathematics Lessons to Explore, Understand, and Respond to Social Injustice, and comes in a version for HS, MS, and elementary math.

Thinking Tasks

YouCubed Tasks are totally free tasks that can be used with many different grade levels. They may not line up with specific math concepts, but they are wonderful to build mathematical confidence! The list is overwhelming, here are my favorites...

Illustrative Mathematics*

Many of my clients are purchasing Illustrative Mathematics as their core curriculum, but did you know it's available for free too? You can head over to Open Up Resources and set up a teacher account to get elementary, middle, or high school IM curriculum totally free of charge. It doesn't come with any digital portals, but your teachers will be able to print lessons and access all the planning guides.

* I strongly urge schools to allow teachers to use plenty of supplemental resources with IM especially if they teach students who are multiple grade levels below. Please reach out,, for more ideas.

Mathematics Assessment Project

This was one of my favorite resources as a Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) years ago and it's still just as wonderful! The site is VERY overwhelming to navigate, but once you understand it, it's a fantastic free resource! The formative assessment lessons are all centered around a task that students do as a pre assessment, then do a very cool engaging lesson, then take a task based post assessment. The resources are robust and include in depth teaching notes, student work samples, and more!

Make Math Moments Tasks

Want to make math visual for your students? You HAVE to check out the Make Math Moments Problem-Based Math Lessons & Full Units of Study! I'm so impressed with how visually engaging these free lessons and tasks are and how easily they can spark conversations in mathematics! (Bonus: I was featured on Jon & Kyle's Make Math Moments podcast and you can listen right here!)

Want more?

I hope this list was helpful! Head over to Instagram and tell me which resource you're most looking forward to trying!

Ever wanted to plan your own PBL units? My colleague, Kristen Moore, from Moore than Just X, is a PBL guru and has a FREE PBL Unit planner! Click here to access Kristen's Gold Standard Project Planner.

If you teach students who struggle with math, make sure you snag my FREE PDF Guide: 10 Math Intervention Strategies!

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