Hands-on subjects like art, STEM, and project-based learning aren't always easy to combine--but this teacher found an innovative way to do just that

How an art teacher tackles STEM and PBL


Hands-on subjects like art, STEM, and project-based learning aren't always easy to combine--but this teacher found an innovative way to do just that

This past year has been, without a doubt, the most challenging one of my entire teaching career. As an art teacher, I always say that my teaching style relies on that one-on-one connection with each student in order to help them build their confidence to prepare them for an engaging, hands-on learning experience.

This approach is even more crucial given my students are newcomers and English language learners, as I was just a decade ago. I work with high school students in the Engaging Newcomers in Language and Content Education (ENLACE) Academy at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

During this time when we are fully remote, it is especially frustrating knowing that students with high needs are struggling and as much as you try, it feels like you can never do enough to help them given the unprecedented circumstances we’re all living through.

One of the most important things I’ll take from this pandemic is the reminder that all teachers – no matter what subject they teach – are valuable. My wife, also a teacher, and I have had to become super parents and super teachers as we continue to raise and teach my two young sons.

My admiration and consideration for all of the hardworking teachers, healthcare workers, and essential workers like trash collectors and others continues to grow. All of these roles have proven to be essential and they shouldn’t stop because we need to continue progress in our world.

That’s why I have decided to continue integrating problem-based learning (PBL) concepts in my classroom. Yes, I am tired and yes, I’m “giving” myself more work (as an art teacher, PBL isn’t necessarily part of the curriculum), but I know that what I’m teaching my students has the potential to completely change lives and I want them to know that they have that ability. Just like other essential workers, I’m going to keep showing up every day for them.

Most educators probably don’t associate PBL, let alone STEM, with art – and I never really did either. While I had always wanted to try to integrate some STEM learning into my classes, my first obstacle was access to equipment and materials. Many art classes today have very limited resources.

What started with the effort of just trying to get a 3D printer for my classroom led me and my students on an adventure participating in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, a nationwide competition that challenges public school teachers. and students to come up with STEM-based solutions to problems impacting their communities.

For our community in 2019, it was finding a solution to help prevent natural gas explosions, which had recently destroyed local homes. You can see how my students tackled it with a 3D-printed device in the video here. The contest helped us discover a whole new world of possibilities, reinforcing my perception that teaching today can save our tomorrow.

Teaching STEM through PBL is something that I want to continue doing for the positive impact it will have on the future – not just for my students, but for our community and the world. Witnessing your students–especially those who are newcomers–build their confidence and realize they have the skills and tools to solve real problems from scratch is an incredible gift.

Integrating technology and PBL in my art class opened a new special vibe where creativity and community are in a constant boost.

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