STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is more than just an acronym or a collection of letters. Rather, it is an instructional movement that embodies cross-curricular concepts from four fundamental disciplines, as well as a research-based strategy that addresses the future needs of a technology-driven work force and sustaining a global economy. The importance of STEM is further validated by its prominence in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
One of the most effective instructional approaches toward the implementation of STEM in grade-level courses is through project-based learning (PBL). In this approach, instruction occurs through student-centered investigations focused on a specific topic driven by a set of objectives, culminating in a broadly-defined product or technique. Projects foster an environment of discussion, creativity, problem-solving, inquiry, modeling, and testing, and are applicable to students in all grade levels and subjects, but particularly within the STEM arena.
Implementing PBL in the classroom
During my 17 years as a classroom teacher, I have consistently implemented projects to help supplement and reinforce concepts critical toward a student’s understanding of overriding topics. These projects promote a student-centered approach and a sense of self-discovery, while also allowing students to collaborate with group members.
As you consider implementing project-based learning (PBL) into your classroom, I offer the following three effective instructional strategies based on my past experiences.
Strategy #1: Identify an engaging topic that is aligned with NGSS standards.
Here are two projects I’ve done in past years. Both projects were closely aligned to science and engineering NGSS, and greatly engaged students in the learning process.
- Fly Me to the Moon…Well, at Least the Upper Stratosphere: Students worked on an experimental payload that was launched using a high-altitude weather balloon. The payload was equipped with a Vernier LabQuest to collect scientific measurements and a GoPro camera to collect video footage during its trajectory.
- Oh, The Places You’ll Go…to Do Science with ROAVEE (Remotely Operated Amphibious Vehicle for Environmental Exploration): I challenged students to design, model, construct, test, and navigate a robotic vehicle—equipped with sensors to collect environmental data—on solid terrain as well as on water.
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