In our previous blog post, we explored the connections between STEAM and Project Based Learning (PBL) and how projects could include core tenants from each. Today, we’ll focus on teachers who have already begun integrating these strategies, as well as how edtech fits into the larger scheme of things.
Bates Middle School in Sumter, SC has been moving forward with STEAM PBL projects since 2017. The goal was to teach students collaboration, cooperation and communication. First, however, they had to do some professional development with teachers to get buy-in. A group of teachers who had agreed to be trainers attended a PBL and STEAM workshop that spanned six sessions. They then returned to the school to lead the staff through a STEAM PBL activity in order to familiarize everyone with the methods. Teachers were then empowered to lead students through one PBL unit the next year.
Bates Middle School decided to assign each grade a different subject area to delve into. For example, seventh graders explored the question, “How can we be prepared for the unexpected?” which centered on disaster management, while eighth graders focused on the question “Can separate be equal?” Guest speakers from the Civil Rights movements of 1960-1990 came in to share personal experiences. The eighth grade drama class presented a skit about the Orangeburg Massacre, while other students rotated rooms to watch films about civil rights, explored civil rights virtual museums and participated in gallery walks. Students did research and presented presentations to address the guiding question; at the end of the year Bates Middle School held a PBL Excellence Fair to showcase student work.
This is just one example of schools and teachers at the intersection of PBL, STEAM and edtech — note that a virtual museum tour was part of the curriculum, as well.
Another example comes from Spanish teacher Rachelle Dene Poth, from Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She set students the task of exploring global issues related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Her aim was to let students express their personality in these projects, so she had them choose their own topics with the stipulation that they be related to the language or the culture. As a result, students explored topics like health, sports, economics, food, and architecture, as well as things like poverty, economic relations, stereotypes and equality —topics they were interested in or that they hoped to pursue in college.
Poth found teachers who wanted to collaborate using Edmodo and then encouraged students to collaborate, as well. In this case, Poth wanted to connect her students with kids from Spanish-speaking countries to help them conduct their research. Students were able to record videos, leave audio notes, and post photos and other media to collaborate. When it came time to present their projects, Poth didn’t dictate how that should be done. Students were uncomfortable initially at the thought of choosing their own way to present the information, but through peer collaboration and teacher facilitation they flourished. Some students simply spoke and showed a few images, while others created watercolor books to illustrate their point or developed a website to easily showcase all the elements of the project. At the end of the project, students had explored something of personal interest to them, connected their ideas to the real world and were empowered in their learning.
“Moving beyond the traditional classroom time and place is easier with technology, and it only takes that first step to begin creating these opportunities for students. As educators, we should model lifelong learning, risk-taking and be constantly seeking new ways to expand how, where and what students learn.”
-Rachelle Dene Poth
What edtech tools have you used in PBL? What STEAM skills were explored in the PBL projects you’ve seen?