Are Project Based Learning and STEAM the perfect pair for Educators?

girls on desk looking at notebook

In terms of education buzzwords, Project Based Learning (PBL) and STEAM initiatives are pretty high on the list. Where are the intersections between the two and how can teachers utilize the core tenants of each to create juggernaut learning experiences?

PBL is an instructional methodology that allows students to show how they’ve learned and applied concepts through an experience, rather than through testing or writing. It gives students of all learning styles an interactive way to engage with what they’ve learned. Some of the main characteristics of successful PBL is that it be interdisciplinary, rigorous and student-centered. The role of the teacher shifts to that of a facilitator as students work independently through the process of inquiry, solution building and product construction. Students go beyond simple recall or recognition and extrapolate their learning to be applied in new contexts. When engaging with real-world problem-solving, students inevitably draw upon knowledge from a wide variety of subject areas to complete their projects. The overall PBL process encourages student independence, ownership of his/her work and the development of 21st century workplace skills.

photo of woman teaching

STEAM’s foundations are based in inquiry, critical thinking and process-based learning, so you can already see some crossover in terms of how students learn through both methodologies. The inquiry portion of STEAM is inspired by the science and math components of the acronym, where posing hypotheses and proving theorems is a well-defined process. The critical thinking component comes into play when teachers challenge students to ask deeper and deeper questions – ones that aren’t easily found through a quick Google search. As problems become more complex, students need to pull in more sources and examine them critically to determine their use in coming up with a solution.

There are many points of intersection between PBL and STEAM, but the most important is student buy-in on the project. Teachers should leave room in each assignment for students to express their personal interests and creativity. The design of the project and the parameters for assessment should be clear from the beginning. As teachers work to create the framework for these projects, it can be helpful to start with the end goal in mind and use it as inspiration.

  • What two or more disciplines will be targeted and assessed? [Interdisciplinary]
  • How will students engage in real-world, authentic problem solving? [Problem-solving, rigor, critical thinking]
  • How will students help shape the learning through voice and choice? [Student-led, student-engagement]
  • What products will students create to demonstrate mastery of the content? [Project design]

There are many ways PBL and STEAM can align to engage students. In next week’s blog post, we’ll showcase some great examples of successful PBL STEAM projects.

What similarities do you see between PBL and STEAM learning? Have you tried any PBL projects that were successful?

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