Thesis Title

Fostering Engagement for Students From Low-Socioeconomic Status Backgrounds Using Project-Based Mathematics

Graduation Date

Spring 2008

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Program Name


Program Director

Madalienne Peters, EdD


In overcrowded urban high schools, students are dealing with many issues in and out of school. Issues at home paired with math curriculum that does not seem relevant to their lives, leads to a lack of engagement in the classroom.

This research poses the question: How can project-based algebra engage low- socioeconomic status high school students? Will teaching through projects promote engagement for this population of students?

The curriculum in many high schools throughout the US is designed to promote success on standardized tests. Many students who score basic or below basic on these tests, may find in part the skills and concepts they are learning in algebra irrelevant to their lives.

Project-based learning is a curriculum approach that is derived from constructivist theory. Constructivism can be traced to the theories of Dewey and later Piaget. This theory states that instruction must be based on experiences, where students build upon their previous knowledge to construct new knowledge with guidance from the teacher.

The literature shows that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and minorities have increased engagement when using a curriculum that includes project-based mathematics. Examining comparative studies on instruction comparable to project-based learning versus traditional instruction, the literature suggests that students more motivated, engaged and have an increased understanding of mathematics.

Engaging with Project-based Math 6 Robert Moses (1989) describes his five-step teaching and learning process. These five steps are: a physical event (mathematical project), a picture or model of the event, intuitive language description of this event and symbolic representation of the event (Moses, Kamii, Swap, & Howard, 1989). My research has examined if teaching through standards based projects promotes engagement for this population of students and indicates the need to create a project-based algebra curriculum.

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