How can schools and districts prepare students for college and careers in STEM? Is it by asking them to passively read a textbook or listen to a teacher lecture? Or is it by challenging them to actively engage in projects that attempt to solve real-world problems?

In Harmony Public Schools in Texas, we want students to become active learners, problem solvers, and STEM advocates. We want to increase their knowledge, skills, and interest in STEM, and balance student-centered teaching with state and national standards. To do this, we developed a personalized project based learning (PBL) model called STEM Students on the Stage (SOS)™.

STEM SOS, which was developed with a $30 million Race to the Top grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is a rigorous, interdisciplinary, standards-focused method of STEM education that encourages students to develop and share their STEM knowledge and investigations. We now incorporate this personalized PBL model into all of our STEM courses.

How we developed a personalized PBL model for STEM

If your school or district wants to engage students with real-world STEM learning and help them develop the competencies required for success in higher education and the workplace, here are a few tips to get started.

1. Replace traditional labs with hands-on projects.
Student projects are vital to the STEM SOS model. Inquiry-based, hands-on projects bring out students’ natural curiosity and engage them in meaningful, rich, and authentic learning environments. In our middle and high schools, students work with their teachers to choose their projects. This practice brings student voice and choice into PBL and increases student agency and ownership of the learning process. Then, during each grading period, students must complete specific PBL Tasks for Level I, Level II, and Level III projects, which are listed on our PBL resource website.

About the Author:

Levent Sakar is the STEM/PBL activity coordinator and physics curriculum director for Harmony Public Schools, a system of K-12 college-preparatory charter schools focusing on STEM. He began teaching physics in 2002 and has taught in St. Petersburg, Russia; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Houston, Texas. He has conducted numerous presentations on physics, STEM, and project-based learning at national and international conferences.

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