Our research shows that when students work on projects, they learn more

Educators often talk about 21st-century skills and the benefits of incorporating communication, creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking into lessons. These are skills students rarely learn straight out of a textbook. The best way to teach them, we’ve found, is by making these skills a relevant part of their active lives.

If that sounds daunting, rest assured, it doesn’t always have to be. One way we have taught these skills is through project-based learning (PBL), where students apply what they’ve learned during a hands-on project that is relevant to the real world — and their lives.

To that end, a new report developed by MIDA Learning Technologies, which we researchers worked on, shows that students engaged in PBL understand concepts more deeply than those receiving traditional instruction, resulting in improved problem solving skills. Past research reviewed in the report also suggests that PBL students perform better on a wide range of assessments including standardized testing. The full report includes quantitative and qualitative evaluations of students’ problem-solving abilities after implementation of a pre-built, project-based STEM curriculum in science class.…Read More

I made my classroom look like the real-world—and test scores soared

Think about the jobs in today’s economy — the ones we’re supposed to prepare students for after graduation. Are employees evaluated using bubble-in tests to prove they know the ins and outs of their job? Do they learn and use new skills one at a time in a vacuum? The questions sound a bit silly until you realize too often that’s what students take away from their education. Why is the culture to drill facts into students’ heads just to pass a test?

Just like in the real world, my students show what they can do through projects, teamwork, and research. Is it working? Well, according to state science exams, my students consistently score higher than other science classes in my district.

I’ve never been a big believer in teaching to a test. Indeed, since my first year in the classroom I’ve used a project-based model with my science and social studies classes. On the first day of school I issue my fifth-graders a PASSPORT (which stands for Preparing All Students for Success by Participating in an Ongoing Real-world simulation using Technology) and explain that their yearlong adventure to “Johnsonville” starts today. The school year is a simulation of adulthood where students work, create, and learn about personal finance and entrepreneurial skills. They experience real-world situations and gain insights into global affairs. Students tend to view my classroom less as a “classroom” and more of an interactive city where all projects intertwine to create an ecosystem of businesses and homes.…Read More

What schools can learn from the unschooling movement

Unschooling is reaching way beyond the homeschool crowd. Traditional schools take note

With the onset of the so-called “new economy,” much of our educational systems is being questioned. With more than 40 percent of future work being independent contract work, what is the best way to learn or prepare for a career?

Most of us associate learning and career preparation with school. However, learning exists outside of the formal constraints of institutions. Whether it’s employment (on-the-job training), real world experiences, or travel, we understand that learning can be self-directed.

This realization has lead to an increase in what is often called unschooling, or even hacked education. Although often associated with homeschooling, unschooling is somewhat different. Homeschooling often uses set curriculum and instructional approaches, whereas true unschooling is directed by the learner.…Read More

Why we all need time to tinker with tech

Tinkering rolls personalized learning and critical thinking into one powerful package

Picture this: a grandparent working on a car in the garage or a kid figuring out the inner workings of a clock. A group of students with screwdrivers in hand taking apart old desktop computers to learn about circuits. Or a parent encouraging their child to invent contraptions for feeding pets or taking apart everyday objects such as old clocks and doorknobs to figure out how things work.

Tinkering in the modern context is a process of trying something to figure out what works or doesn’t to find your way to the best solution, often going through many iterations, or changes, along the way. Tinkering is more a philosophy than a single practice and thus can be applied to many forms of learning for all learners.

In a blog post discussing their work, authors Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien discuss the science behind making mistakes and becoming experts. Experts are not made by practice alone, instead they deliberately tinker to determine which strategies are working or not working, and strategically develop areas that need improvement.…Read More

7 ways data collection is improving STEM education

One district is getting students more active and analytical with data-collection tools, like probeware

Today’s students, being technology natives, expect the same kinds of engagement in the classroom as they seek out online. STEM classes in particular have a natural potential to be both tech-rich and inquiry-based, especially hands-on lab activities. The recent addition of probeware—sensory-based handheld devices for measuring things like water quality, light, and temperature—has allowed us to bring students out into nature and introduce them to the world of data collection and analysis. Here are 7 ways technology is enhancing and expanding STEM education in our school district.

Technology helps students acquire scientific literacy and hands-on experience.

Science isn’t about memorizing facts and formulas. It’s about developing an understanding of the scientific process and giving students opportunities to apply that process to their learning.…Read More

When students become entrepreneurs, real learning happens

Some students get engaged with cross-curricular, large-scale project-based learning

entreprenur-pblHere in eastern Ohio, some of our students are embracing their entrepreneurial spirit right at school, engaging in a style of learning that helps make lessons come alive.

The students, spread throughout nine districts, are working with my organization, the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, which provides educational opportunities—including this foray into project-based learning—to thousands of regional students.

In one recent project, student teams were assigned a region of the United States, and they were challenged to plan and design a self-sustaining restaurant in that area. Nearly every subject was involved as students researched the demographics of their region to determine what kind of restaurant would make sense for their customer base, and identified the renewable energy sources they could use to cut costs and reduce the carbon footprint of their restaurant. Teachers in almost every subject gave up part of their class time to let students work on their projects. In math, they calculated the optimum prices to charge for dishes. In English class, they had to develop a pitch to investors. And in music, they wrote an advertising jingle to promote it.…Read More

This innovative district lets students choose how to learn

A district offers students 6 instructional models—an approach that has led to zero dropouts

choose-learningTo hear Taylor County Schools Assistant Superintendent Charles Higdon tell it, students shouldn’t be allowed to drop out of school—at least not without a fight.

“We have implemented a ‘zero dropout’ policy that does not allow students to drop out of our district,” he said. But rather than imprisoning students in front-facing classrooms, the rural Kentucky district is instead trying to entice at-risk, and even low-risk, students to enjoy their education through a series of innovative and distinct learning pathways–informally called “spokes.”

Students in Taylor County can actually choose how they want to learn from among six instructional models, including traditional, online, peer-led, and project-based learning. This highly student-centered approach has resulted in a 100-percent graduation rate within the district over the last few years, say administrators.…Read More

28 apps for challenge-based learning projects

Encourage innovative challenge-based learning projects with these hand-selected apps

challenge-basedChallenge-based learning lets students locate a problem and then unleash their creativity in search of a solution. By nature, these projects are collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and hands-on. And what better tool to use to help encourage community fitness or reduce environmental impact than the possibility-rich mobile device?

The website APPitic.com, an app resource site with more than 6,000 apps in more than 300 subcategories, breaks down challenge-based learning projects into four steps: Finding & launching a challenge, moving from challenge to solution, implementing a solution, and sharing findings.

Here, we’ve gathered a handful of apps for each of those stages, broken down further into substeps. You find the full range of suggested apps online.…Read More