Support Project Based Learning at STEM
What is Project Based Learning?
Imagine a day spent learning all about one thing. Stretch that day to a week–or a month. You look closely at it. You read about it. You write reports on it and stories inspired by it. You build models of it, study the science it. You create art about it. You have conversations about it, imagine how you could could improve it. You calculate about it (whether it’s addition, measurements, ratios, or costs). You teach your friends what you know about it. At the end of a month or two, you know the subject well, and your reading, writing, math, science, engineering, art and presentation skills have all been actively linked and engaged.
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a method of instruction that integrates diverse subjects into a long-term project. Instead of learning each subject separately, with PBL, students work on many subjects as they relate to the current class project. PBL engages students through active, hands-on learning, and it helps students to understand the connections between subject areas that might otherwise seem disconnected. When STEM was started, the Design Team decided that PBL would be the best approach for this school because it would provide more opportunities to make STEM subjects come alive for our students and give them applied knowledge. PBL emphasizes projects and presentations, encouraging students to share their knowledge and to become members of an engaged learning community.
A recent piece on KQED took a look at PBL in the sciences and found strong evidence in favor of this hands-on approach.
What does it mean to fund PBL?
Project Based Learning isn’t a kit you can buy: it’s an approach that educators take to engage their students, and it requires more work than handing out workbooks and assigning chapters in a textbook. In order to create projects that meet standards and integrate as many subjects as possible, teachers need to know how to plan a project and how to guide it along as students respond to and shape it. Although all of our teachers joined STEM with enthusiasm about innovation in education, not everyone has experience with PBL. For our whole school to engage in rigorous, lively PBL, all of our teachers need some common ground. If we can support PBL through ongoing professional development for our teachers, we can help ensure that every class has exciting projects going on at all times. We want to be able to send our staff to workshops and trainings that will connect them to other inspired educators and provide them with a common language for building projects for all of our students.
We also want to be able to purchase the tools and resources teachers might request for their projects. After last year’s Direct Give, we were able to outfit our STEM science lab with a tremendous array of resources that are not usually available in elementary schools, but our teachers always think bigger, and we want to be able to say YES to their dreams.
For more information about Project Based Learning, visit the Buck Institute, one of several organizations promoting this approach in education. Note: STEM may not use the Buck Institute for trainings, but they remain a good source of information about the concepts of PBL.