The Need for Projects, Products and Performance in Mathematics Education

A Commentary by Carole Greenes


For years, I have heard educators say, “Too much text distracts from the math. Remove text/context to simplify and focus on key concepts and skills.”  In my experience, Context-rich problems motivate reading, problem solving, collaborating, and verifying solutions.  And, they enhance persistence and experimentation.


In preparation for instruction, we must focus on student learning. To do that, in advance of teaching, we need to:


  • Identify and explore key concepts, skills, and reasoning methods and how they grow and become more robust.
  • Identify multiple contexts for developing the SAME idea. Contexts must be seductive and selected to promote collaboration and perseverance.
  • Design projects, use them with students, and revise based on student feedback for future use.
  • Conduct Showcase Performances.


The need for Projects, Products and Performances, stems from my work with several NSF and other education-funded projects. What are each of these?  Why are they so important? Here’s my opinion.


PROJECTS must employ multiple:


  • Math Contexts (e.g., algebra, measurement)
  • Non-Math Contexts—particularly since these have been identified as major contributors to problem difficulty ( e.g., students themselves, walking pace, reaction time, heart rate)
  • Technologies (e.g., mobile devices, scales, thermometers)
  • Reasoning Methods (e.g., deductive, proportional)


  • Apps
  • NewStories
  • Photo Essays
  • Posters
  • PowerPoint Presentations
  • Videos with Narration




Conduct a Showcase Open House where students:
  • Present work to peers, friends, parents, and other members of the community
  • Respond to audience questions
Why is Performance so Important?


Preparation for a performance (speaking without notes and with a PowerPoint or Poster) is an excellent way to assess students and requires:
  • Identification of key ideas (mathematics and context)
  • Development of summaries of those ideas
  • Organization into a cohesive presentation
  • Anticipation of audience difficulties in following along with the presentation
  • Anticipation of audience questions
I would love to hear form you about projects, products, and performance tasks you have used in mathematics, and what you learned about your students from them.
All the best,
Carole Greenes