Embarking on STEAM PBL: A Student's Reflection and Tips for Starting Small

Begin your STEAM Project-Based Learning journey by embracing smaller projects that prioritize skill development through small-scale activities, empowering students to take an active role in their education and exercise their voice and choice.


College. Every time a friend or a family member mentions it to me the word makes me contemplate my future. Countless thoughts coupled with a wave of emotions invade me. Am I prepared for this completely new world of academics? Can I succeed in the real world with the education I have received? 

Ever since I was little, the world of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) fascinated me. In elementary school, I loved the exploding volcanoes made of vinegar and baking soda. I attempted to engineer the most perfect and sturdy bridge out of pieces of spaghetti. I wanted to design robots that could take over the world. When I entered high school I was eager for higher-level and more targeted  STEAM classes. My love for the STEAM fields soared and grew. I imagined hands-on experiments, thrilling new challenges, and engaging projects. However, after completing two years of high school, my perception shifted as I was faced with reality.

The majority of my STEAM-related classes turned out to be more lecture-based and less active than I had anticipated. The subject matter still remained intriguing, but the lack of practical applications and interactive experiences left me wanting something more. I wanted to immerse myself in the joy of experimentation and to see how my learning directly impacted the world around me. As I am beginning to look into different colleges I worry. I want to be well-prepared for the real world, where problem-solving and innovation are essential. I want to thrive.

My mission is to advocate for change. I want to be the voice that helps transform education not only for myself but also for the students who will follow in my passion-filled footsteps. I realize that my inclination for STEAM isn’t limited to my personal pursuit but instead encompasses a mission of small but impactful steps we can take to inspire others and create an authentic and engaging learning environment for all. 

This is not only the voice of my daughter, but countless students I work with, which drives my desire to advocate for Project Based Learning (PBL). Embracing the desires of our children and our students is an essential part of nurturing their individuality and fostering a strong sense of self. By listening attentively to their passions and dreams, we create a supportive environment where they can explore, learn, and grow. 

As a STEAM Professional Development Specialist, I have found PBL to be a transformative educational approach that empowers students to become active, engaged learners who can make a difference in the world. However, the prospect of implementing extensive projects can be overwhelming, especially for educators new to the methodology. A pragmatic and effective way to begin your journey with PBL is by embracing smaller projects that prioritize skill development through small-scale activities. In this article, I’ll guide you through the process of getting started with STEAM PBL while focusing on honing essential skills in your students.


Understanding the Essence of Small-Scale STEAM PBL

Smaller projects within the realm of STEAM PBL involve breaking down complex concepts into manageable parts. These projects are designed to help students acquire and refine skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, as well as creativity and innovation. By focusing on skill development through small-scale activities, educators create a scaffolded learning experience that empowers students to build a strong foundation of STEAM competencies. I am providing three different examples for you to reflect on as you review the steps below. While the following PBL examples span various domains within science, the subsequent steps can be universally applied in any subject area: Elementary Example, Middle School Example, High School Example.


Steps to Initiating Small-Scale STEAM PBL

  1. Define Learning Objectives: Identify the core STEAM skills you want students to develop, whether it's designing, coding, experimenting, or artistic expression.
  2. Select Small-Scale Projects: Design a series of mini-projects, each centered around a specific skill. For instance, a coding mini-project could involve creating a simple interactive program.
  3. Sequence the Projects: Organize the mini-projects in a logical sequence that gradually introduces and builds upon STEAM concepts. 
  4. Set Clear Outcomes: Clearly outline the objectives and expectations for each mini-project. Highlight how each activity contributes to skill development.
  5. Provide Resources: Offer a variety of resources, from materials to references, that students can use to complete each mini-project.
  6. Encourage Collaboration: Create an environment that encourages collaboration among students, allowing them to leverage each other's strengths.
  7. Assess and Provide Feedback: Develop assessment criteria for each mini-project, and provide constructive feedback that highlights growth areas.
  8. Foster Reflection: Guide students in reflecting on their learning after each mini-project, focusing on how their skills have evolved.
  9. Culminating Reflection: At the end of the series, encourage students to reflect on their overall skill development journey and the interdisciplinary connections they've made.


Benefits of Small-Scale STEAM PBL

  • Accessible Introduction: Smaller projects make the STEAM PBL approach more accessible for both educators and students.
  • Mastery of Skills: Focusing on specific skills allows teachers the opportunity to target them and students the opportunity to master them thoroughly before progressing to more complex tasks.
  • Autonomy and Ownership: Students take ownership of their learning as they engage in creative problem-solving.
  • Flexible Integration: Small-scale projects can be integrated into existing curricula, easing the transition to STEAM PBL.
  • Preparation for Comprehensive STEAM PBL: Small-scale projects prepare students for larger, comprehensive STEAM PBL experiences.


In the ever-evolving landscape of education, it has become increasingly clear that a student's voice is not just valuable, but indispensable. Embarking on the journey of STEAM Project-Based Learning doesn't require diving headfirst into large-scale projects. Through small-scale projects that prioritize skill development, you create a nurturing environment for student growth in STEAM competencies. By fostering collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving, small-scale projects set the stage for a broader understanding of STEAM concepts and interdisciplinary connections. As educators embrace the potential of small-scale STEAM PBL, they cultivate a generation of innovative thinkers equipped to tackle real-world challenges with confidence and creativity.





About the Author:

John Sammon - STEAM Professional Development Specialist. I have been an educator for over two decades. My vision as a Professional Development Specialist is to inspire learning through inquiry and exploration. Through such actions, enact beliefs, and values in the people that I work with to grow beyond what was thought possible. I work with teachers and students to actively engage in the collective subjects known as STEAM. My intentions are to deepen understanding through authentic learning experiences, where children engage with fundamental questions about the world and how humans have investigated and found answers to those questions.

  • Presenter: ISTE Creative Constructor Lab 2020
  • Presenter: NYSCATE Annual Conference Presenter 2020, 2021, 2022
  • Presenter: Curriculum & Associates Symposium, 2023



Subscribe to the #1 PBL Blog!

Receive new articles in the world of Project Based Learning, STEM/STEAM, and College & Career Readiness. 

Subscribe to our blog