We reviewed the major news articles written on project-based learning (PBL) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in 2020 and found ten that we think are exceptionally inspiring and educational. Topics range from research reports to feature stories about new PBL and STEM initiatives in schools.
These articles support Defined Learning's mission of assisting students in developing the critical 21st-century skills they need to succeed in college, career, and life.
Amid a pandemic, educators are trying to figure out how to make sure that kids are socially in tune, emotionally intact, and cognitively engaged. Moreover, we’re all attempting to figure out how to do this across a plethora of mediums, including computer screens, video cameras streaming into classrooms, and engaging students face-to-face albeit across shields, masks, and plexiglass.
Shelby County Public Schools, a district serving about 7,000 students halfway between Louisville and Lexington, has had state approval for “nontraditional instruction” for several years. That means if a bad snowstorm hit the county, they could keep school going remotely and count the days like any others in the school calendar. Their experience with remote learning helped when schools closed because of the coronavirus.
That’s the encouraging claim in a recent paper in the journal Educational Psychologist: "Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Toward SEL in Service of Educational Equity and Excellence" (Robert J. Jagers, Deborah Rivas-Drake & Brittney Williams, July 2019).This paper has some well-researched findings that are worth touting, since we too have been arguing that PBL is a powerful strategy for addressing educational inequity, one that can even be transformative for many students.
Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.
When teaching in challenging times like these, it’s easy to get so mired in the day-to-day minutiae of making online learning work that you can lose sight of how important fun is to learning. Not only does fun build engagement in remote environments, but it alleviates some of the trauma experienced by kids this year.
2020 will be remembered for many significant cultural, political, economic, and global challenges. All of these are overwhelming, but also represent opportunities for collective calls to action. In that spirit, one high school principal is reaching out to his colleagues to join the Project-Based Learning Revolution. In his book A PBL Revolution: Join the Movement to Transform Education One School at a Time Through Project-Based Learning, Dr. Daniel Ching is challenging both teachers and leaders to transform their classrooms and schools to truly meet the needs of today’s ever-changing learners.
I was recently interviewed on a podcast and was asked how I felt about the changes in education in light of the pandemic. We discussed the fact that a lot has changed; for educators, for students, and for families. The circumstances that we are in have caused schools to make shifts to different modes of learning. While many schools and districts are utilizing different models of education, they all maintain one important focus which is providing effective instruction to students.
If there is a silver lining to the heavy emphasis on remote and hybrid instruction during the pandemic, it is this: Students are getting more opportunities to work independently and at their own pace—and in the process, they are becoming better problem-solvers. At least that is the take of educators working in schools where personalized learning is the centerpiece of instruction. They say the shift to remote and hybrid instruction has given them an opportunity to deepen their commitment to learner-centered approaches and build new strategies that will continue to be applied once all students are able to return to school buildings at full capacity.
Problem-solving is the heart of STEM investigations, but not just any old problem will do. STEM focuses on authentic projects that fuel students’ curiosity and investigative interests – problems that generate enthusiasm and a sense of empathy as kids engage in work that truly matters. Students might design and create solutions to make a product safer or more cost-effective. They might design a way to minimize some type of damage to their local environment. They might work on a solution for a health concern or an accessibility issue. And as they work together, they realize that content they learn in class has actual applications.
When the community of Dayton, Ohio—charged in 2008 with founding a STEM high school—pondered how to bring life to its mission of connecting students to real-world outcomes, they didn’t need to look far. Within Dayton city limits, employers like GE Aviation, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and Kettering Health Network were seeking employees who could be, in the words of the Ohio Department of Education, “innovators and inventors, self-reliant and logical thinkers, and technologically proficient problem solvers.” The area was rich with opportunities in applied science and mathematics.
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