Foster an atmosphere of collaborative problem-solvers in classrooms, who will explore, invent, solve, and become the makers of tomorrow.

Across the world, we see more and more schools and educators adopting some form of project-based learning or PBL. Educators are well aware of the power that creative, critical thinking can do for their students. However, many of the hurdles that educators face in the successful implementation of PBL are often a lack of resources and a deeper understanding of the difference between a project and project-based learning. This includes understanding best practices around how to create truly meaningful experiences that open a student’s mind to thinking critically and becoming creative problem solvers.

So, let’s weed out the ‘extra’ words and jargon and get straight to the heart of what PBL is, the research behind it, what are some best practices around implementing PBL, and how PBL plays nicely with STEM (without negating the fact that PBL works beautifully in any subject area). This short and to the point overview will hone in a tried and true pedagogical method we know works – and can be a game-changer in our classrooms and STEM activities.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

Confucius.

01.

What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?

Regardless of grade level, students are exposed to real-world problems and challenges that affect them both directly and indirectly, all the time. 

And students today are very well informed about various situations and current news topics. Whether from hearing the news at home, learning about current events in class, or from experiencing situations first-hand. For example, a third-grader may be exposed to a real-world issue of seeing a classmate (or more than one) who doesn’t get enough to eat (i.e. food insecurity). More recently, in the news, we see an extensive movement of students of all ages taking a stance and leading the charge towards tackling the problem of climate change. 

Across the board, some of the most common overarching ‘themes’ our students of all grade levels face are:

  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Various science topics 
  • Climate change
  • Food insecurity
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Violence

The point is, real-world problems affect our students on a daily basis. As teachers, we know this. We see this. We feel this in our classrooms. 

And our students are not immune either.

How many times have we heard our students mention they wish they could change an outcome to specific circumstances? When our students start to wonder ‘what if,’ they have arrived at the right moment to start exploring. Their ‘what if’ question becomes the driving question to the start of a project-based learning opportunity.

Project-based learning challenges students to think outside the box to actively seek answers to questions they have.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching method that brings learning to life, ignites student creativity and curiosity, and allows students to explore connections between school to the world around them. 

And tackling real-world problems in collaborative, critical, and creative ways is the foundation of project-based learning.

Project-Based Learning:

  • is student-centered. The teacher acts as the guide and facilitator.
  • starts with a driving question.
  • is process-driven. 
  • promotes student agency: Student voice & choice determines outcomes.
  • is rooted in real-world application and learning is front and center.
  • is cross-curricular.
  • promotes inquiry and critical thinking skills.
  • ignites creativity.
  • is collaborative by nature.
  • promotes the development of soft skills.
  • allows students to present to authentic audiences.
  • promotes self-reflection and peer feedback.
  • encourages student engagement and increased motivation.
  • enhanced student performance and understanding of concepts.
  • increased interaction of students amongst peers and with the teacher.

Project-Based Learning is Not:

  • Teacher-centric
  • A siloed curriculum subject area project
  • Includes teacher made, pre-planned questions
  • Includes structured directions
  • A culminating event from a lesson or unit of study
  • Relies on teacher assessment 

As we discuss what PBL is – and is not – and before we take a deeper dive and explore best practices of this game-changing teaching strategy, it’s worth discussing one of the most common misconceptions around projects and project-based learning.

PT_PBL_Resources_PillarPage_Assets-11

Project vs. Project-Based Learning

Occasionally, we may hear someone interchange projects and project-based learning. While projects are a fun way for students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of concepts and standards, they are a single, one-off assignment. So, it is worth pointing out that project-based learning is not to be confused with students completing “siloed” projects. Instead, it can be better understood through the analogy that a single project can be thought of as a lesson, and project-based learning can be thought of as the unit. In project-based learning, students learn through projects, not completing a culminating project for a grade.

In project-based learning, students learn about the world in which they live by “actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects” over a period of time.

Two great overview videos on project-based learning to get you started are:

  1. What is Project-Based Learning?
  2. Edutopia’s Projects and Project-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?

Who Does Project-Based Learning Work For?

The simple answer is ... everyone. (If you haven’t watched the first video listed above, I highly recommend you do.) Project-based learning works for all students as it invokes thinking critically and developing problem-solving skills. It also leverages collaboration, communication, soft skills, and reflection. Think about your classroom for a moment. Think about the different students in your room and all the diverse abilities and personal characteristics. Based on what we’ve talked about what PBL is, can you think of anyone PBL wouldn’t work for? Even in the toughest classrooms and schools, PBL works!

Just ask Dr. Nadia Lopez. As the founder, she opened Mott Hall Bridges Academy (a STEM-focused school) in 2010 in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Her neighborhood had extremely high rates of poverty and crime, but she was determined to help children overcome the challenges of her neighborhood through project-based learning. She did this by teaching the kids a foundational principle: “I’m going to teach you the fundamentals of what it means to be a creator, not just a consumer.”

PBL Promotes Soft-Skill Development

Did you know that soft-skills can be thought of as 21st-century skills? 

When we talk about future-proofing our students, we don’t just mean their tech-savviness (although that is a huge component), or through their attainment of hard skills (or knowledge of subject areas). We also mean supporting our students in soft skill development too! 

As our students prepare for college and career and life beyond our classroom walls, strong soft skills are highly sought after by employers. According to Collabera, research from the National Soft Skills Association reports that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills. And 16% of employers believe soft skills are more important than hard skills when screening job candidates.

The World Economic Forum lists the top growing skills for 2020 to include characteristics such as analytic thinking, active learning, creativity, technology design and programming, critical thinking skills, and complex problem-solving.  While tech and programming is more of a ‘hard’ skill our students would clearly benefit from learning, it’s clear that soft skills are currently, and will continue to grow, in demand by employers.

World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report

Project-based learning naturally leads to the development and sustaining of key soft skills students need today and tomorrow. And, to name a few, some of those sought after skills include:

  • Collaboration
  • Self Awareness
  • Communication / Teamwork
  • Patience
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • Time Management
  • Conflict Resolution

The fact that PBL supports all our students, encourages a deeper understanding of content, allows for meaningful connections between school and the real-world, and aides our students in the soft skills they need for future employment, it’s a wonder why we don’t employ this instructional strategy more often in our schools – and libraries!

Read how teachers supported by the Royal Government of Bhutan and UNICEF are using pi-top in their community.

Additionally, as you start to understand what project-based learning is – and is not – you probably can’t help but wonder how we got to this instructional strategy in the first place. Where did it come from? And more importantly, how do we know it actually works. After all, educators always have to show research and proof of effectiveness when deploying new strategies and curriculum.

So how do we know that establishing PBL classrooms works?

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

John Dewey.

02.

How Research Supports Project-Based Learning.

A Student-Centered Approach

Think back to when you were in college in your core teaching preparatory classes. You were introduced to several highly influential educational theorists and psychologists that established many of the instructional models and learning theories and strategies we use in our classrooms daily. As educators, we were introduced to – and are familiar with – the three major theories to learning: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. We are also familiar with names such as Gardner, Bloom, Skinner, Bruner, Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, Vygotzky, and so many others. There was a reason we spent countless hours studying these different theories and how they contributed to shaping the way we teach, and how different curriculum is even developed. While these theories and strategies are what shape our education system today, we continuously build upon these ideas to meet the needs of learners.

Classroom teaching has dramatically evolved over the years, going from primarily teacher-directed instruction to student-centered instruction.

What is important to understand about project-based learning is that this is not a teaching fad, but well-rooted in research. The Buck Institute for Education has research that has demonstrated the impact on student learning in classrooms using PBL. Project-based learning takes a student-centered approach and falls under the major learning theory of constructionism, and leans heavily on the philosophies of Piaget and Vygotzky. Additionally, John Dewey first introduced the concept of “learning by doing” around the start of the 1900s. PBL is not a new idea necessarily. It’s just that it’s evolving in the way it looks in our classrooms.

Download our extensive ebook: Education, Knowledge & Learning: An overview of research and theory about constructionism and making. pi-top e-book: Education, Knowledge, and Learning

Based on the research from the ebook “Education, Knowledge & Learning: An overview of research and theory about constructionism and making,” we can conclude in summary a few key ideas and research findings:

  1. Many educational authorities contend that a more holistic definition of learning is necessary for education­al transformation learning is better understood as an ongoing effort to find one's voice and present one's ideas to others rather than as a measure of infor­mational acquisition or of conformity to a standardized set of ideas or values.
  2. Two approaches to teaching and learning dominate today's schools 'instructionism,' which focuses on teachers as deliverers and learners as consumers, and 'constructionism,' which focuses on teachers as designers and learners as 'makers' and connectors.
  3. Research shows that construction­ist approaches increase learner engagement problem-based, pro­ject-based, and 'maker' learning demon­strably increase learner engagement and reduce the number of students who leave school.
  4. The self-directed learning common to most constructionist approaches has been shown to improve learning and academic skills studies show that learners develop better study habits, improve knowledge retention, increase problem-solving skills, and demon­strate attitudes more likely to lead to life-long learning.
  5. Studies show that constructionist learning tends to diminish or erase academic differences for learners from marginalized or minority groups learners engaged in these learn­ing activities show significantly better academic performance than their peers in instructionist programs and often perform at levels commensurate with those from advantaged backgrounds.
  6. The hands-on and real-world empha­ses of 'maker' learning give students important advantages, but many schools are still uncertain how to incorporate them as an outgrowth of problem- and project-based learning, 'maker' learning must involve more than 30 printing or the use of other trendy technologies. Developing solutions for real-world problems that they choose and explore gives learners a chance to develop agency, collaboration, and communication skills even as they extend their understanding and skills.
  7. Because of the more social and dia­lectical nature of constructionist approaches, learners tend to comprehend and contextualize information more thoroughly because of the importance of discussion and collaboration in these approaches, learners develop more broad and interconnected understandings of key principles and concepts. This stands in con­trast to the more narrow, discipline-spe­cific information typically engendered by instructionist learning methodologies.
  8. Computer technology is more impor­tant as a catalyst or tool for learning than as a subject in itself technology can enable personalization, collaboration, and exploration, but when treated as an end in itself, it tends to lose efficacy.
  9. Teacher preparation is critical to the success of any learning methodology research shows that well-prepared teachers who understand learning meth­odologies conceptually have a positive impact on their learning environments no matter what strategies they use.

We know it is through research that curriculum is designed, and instructional strategies are established and implemented in our classrooms.

In fact, it is based on the previously discussed research above supporting project-based learning, that the pi-top Learning Framework was established. It supports and guides learners and teachers, moving them from instructionism to social constructionism, incorporating Lev Vygotsky’s and Jean Piaget’s work on growth and Seymour Papert’s learning theories.

Learning activities

And the pi-top framework can also work into the Gold Standard: Project-Based Learning Practices by PBLWorks.org that identifies seven teaching practices:

  1. Design and Plan
  2. Align to Standards
  3. Build the Culture
  4. Manage Activities
  5. Scaffold Student Learning
  6. Assess Student Learning
  7. Engage and Coach

Dr. William Rankin Ph.D., former Director of Learning & Research at pi-top, examines shaping a new generation of learning, with a humorous and non-technical approach, his short presentation explores ways to reimagine teaching and learning to offer a new way to chart the path for education.

pi-top We Make The Future Podcast

Now that we’ve explored the foundation of what project-based learning is and the research that drives the support for PBL, let’s start to explore the natural fit of project-based learning in STEM and STEAM.

Teaching means creating situations where structure can be discovered.

Jean Piaget.

03.

Applying Project-Based Learning (PBL) in STEM/STEAM.

It was in the early 2000s when we really started to see and hear a push for STEM/STEAM within the education-verse in order to best prepare our students for a technology-rich future. When we started to look at the landscape of predicting future jobs, many landed within the STEM field. So what is STEM and STEAM, and what is driving us to develop highly engaging and extensive programs within our schools?

STEAM education

What is STEM or STEAM?

Across K-12 classrooms, college campuses, museums, makerspaces, after- and before school programs, businesses, and even in senior citizen programs, STEAM is making an enormous impact on how we view, teach, learn, interact, and think about the world around us.

Science + Technology + Engineering + Art + Math = STEAM

While you could argue that STEAM could be a ‘class’ (in theory, both informally and formally), STEAM is really more of an interdisciplinary program of study – or a contextual curriculum – that interweaves multiple subjects into an opportunity to teach students how science, technology, engineering, art, and math can, and do, relate and provide coordinated support to each other.

According to STEAMEDU.org, “STEAM ties ALL the subjects to each other in an interdisciplinary way as well as to the full spectrum of the rapidly changing business and professional world. It is a life-long career and life-readiness way of educating and learning that is adaptable to the rapidly changing global world we live in.”

With that being said, it’s no wonder then that the job market has positive outlooks for careers rooted in STEM.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly all STEM jobs are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. This is highly crucial information as we prepare our students to explore careers, college, and the workforce post-high school.  For example, careers such as cybersecurity are growing at a rapid pace. In fact, Wyedean School in Gloucestershire, England, became a spoke school within the NCSC Cyber Schools Hub project. The Cyber Schools Hub (CSH) is a project that fosters collaboration between local schools, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), companies and organizations who share the aim of encouraging young people to engage with computer science and cyber security principles. 

It’s also no surprise then that so many schools are looking to place a higher emphasis on evaluating and implementing current and future STEAM programs within their districts.

STEAM Program Benefits

There is no age limit to when we immerse ourselves in learning more about the world around us. And there is no set age as to when we start providing STEAM programs to children – or, for that matter, an age limit as to when they shouldn’t be available to adults. 

STEAM programs benefit all.

STEAM programs:

  • are inclusive to all our learners
  • encourage our students to think creatively and critically
  • provide opportunities for our students to think collaboratively 
  • allocates time for students to work in teams
  • equips students with positive communication and conflict resolution skills
  • allows a safe environment for our students to try and fail and try again
  • and provide so many more benefits!

When viewing just a few of the many benefits of a STEAM program, it's obvious that the benefits of project-based learning are strikingly similar. Again, another reason as to why PBL and STEAM make wonderful complementary partners in our instructional strategies.

STEAM and PBL

When we teach our students the scientific method, we are already asking our students to think about the ‘what ifs’ of the world around them. 

When we think about real-world issues, we know these are the things that students face (or will face) daily. These can be challenges, situations, products, and people. And these can be situations that can impact them and their community – whether directly or indirectly. Project-based learning allows students to explore and develop opportunities to change or overcome barriers that affect their ‘real-world’. We ask our students to think critically, problem-solve, and explore solving the driving question. 

There are also two more key components to keep in mind when it comes to STEM and how PBL supports these teaching strategies. STEAM programs are adaptable and flexible to the needs of state and local programs focused on core curriculum and 21st-Century skills. Additionally, with this flexibility comes the ability to align to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and other state standards. It allows for cross-curricular alignment and support for preparing students for multidisciplinary assessments.

  1. Common Core asks teachers to make sure that students are continuously reading and writing across the curriculum (after all, scientists and engineers spend a vast amount of time doing both), and that they “obtain, evaluate, and communicate in science and engineering.”
  2. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) make it clear that there is a crossover between these standards and Common Core. According to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), “The intersections between NGSS and Common Core teach students to analyze data, model concepts, and strategically use tools through productive talk and shared activity. These practice-based standards help teachers foster a classroom culture where students think and reason together, connecting around the subject matter and core ideas.” 

Another point to note here is that these NGSS standards are internationally benchmarked!

Knowing that PBL places a heavy emphasis on process, making connections to the real-world, working collaboratively, leveraging technology, and communicating out results inherently draws a dotted line to the scientific inquiry, using technology, applying math, integrating reading and writing, and applying the engineering design model.

What does this mean then? STEM and PBL are a true compliment to one another!

Scientific Method vs. The Engineering Design Process

Early on in elementary school, we teach our students about the scientific method. In fact, not only does the scientific method become a mantra (so-to-speak), but it becomes the root of our inquiry-based classrooms. 

When it comes to a comprehensive STEM / STEAM program, we integrate science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics into the fold.

But have you ever wondered how both the scientific method and engineering design process come together for our students? You wouldn’t be alone if you did. While there are a lot of similarities, there are some differences that set the two apart.

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  1. The Definition
    In science, we explore the world around us. In engineering, we build and develop.
  2. The Goals
    In the scientific method, our goal is to draw conclusions from the experiment that was designed to test a hypothesis. In the engineering design process, the goal is to build a prototype that tests the solution from the problem we stated (not asked).
  3. The Procedure
    In the scientific method, we ask, “Why?” and state our question. In the engineering design process, we ask, “What or how?” and define the problem.

As you look at the table above, it’s easy to see how both are similar yet have clear differentiators that set them apart. And as you think about your classroom, I’m sure you are able to see how each can play a key role in STEAM.

Since all educators who teach science are well aware of the scientific method and how to teach it, let’s take a moment to really explore the engineering design a little more in-depth, as it plays a role in a STEAM PBL unit.

The Engineering Design Process

There are multiple visuals out there that depict the Engineering Design Process as a series of a different number of steps. The varying number of steps really depends on how granular you want to get. If you are an elementary teacher, you may want to start with a more simplistic five-step process: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Approve. If you are a middle school or high school teacher, you might want your students to dig a little deeper with the process. It’s also worth pointing out that engineers don’t always do all the steps in order. For example, an engineer may test a design only to find that the solution they thought would work did not go as plan. So back to the drawing board they go in order to redesign and retest to find the solution.

Steps of the Engineering Design Process
The Engineering Design Process
  1. Define the Problem
    Ask, “What is the problem?”
  2. Explore & Identify
    Explore the problem by doing research. Ask, “What are constraints for creating a successful solution?” For example, are the amount of space, materials, time, money, etc., aspects that may restrict the process or ability to create a successful solution?
  3. Brainstorm & Select
    Brainstorm and make a list of possible solutions to the problem identified. From this list, select the best solution to explore.
  4. Develop & Prototype
    Make a list of all the materials needed. Draw a sketch and any related diagrams for your proposed prototype of the solution. List the steps of the design process that you follow. Create a prototype (or build a model) of the possible solution.
  5. Test & Evaluate
    Test the prototype or model that was created. Ask, “Does this solution solve the problem?” Analyze the results. Show (demonstrate) how you came to this conclusion.
  6. Make it Better!
    Make the changes to the model or prototype to better solve for the problem. If you make changes, make sure to test and evaluate the model again.
  7. Communicate
    Show and share out your results. Demonstrate how you came to the solution for the problem. Explain how your model solves for the problem.

While project-based learning can be used in any instructional class, be it core, elective, or career and technical education, it almost feels like a natural fit for a STEM or STEAM class. And the more we explore and understand PBL, it really does become apparent how well PBL and STEAM strategies complement each other and research demonstrates this.

Education is not an affair of 'telling', and being told, but an active and constructive process.

Jean Piaget.

04.

How to Get Started with Project-Based Learning.

As you research and explore information on project-based learning, you’ll start to uncover common barriers as to why we don’t see more project-based learning in our schools. A couple of common barriers include:

  • Needed teacher professional development, workshops, and continuous support. Teachers need to be able to have the resources, know-how, and tips and tricks from other teachers who have implemented PBL strategies first-hand. 
  • PBL is not a strategy that can be implemented without a few hurdles overnight. A lot of work goes into developing PBL units, and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for different classrooms can also be tricky.

Nonetheless, schools and classroom teachers are giving it a go with success!

Evaluate Your Current Program

Whether you’re at the beginning stages of developing a PBL STEAM program or have one currently in place, periodically evaluating your program helps to identify strengths, challenges, and areas you may want to change or expand on as the next steps. 

Both inquiry-based learning and project-based learning are based on the instructional philosophies of John Dewey and rooted in constructivism, as discussed above. In fact, in the research of “STEM Project-Based Learning: Specialized Form of Inquiry-Based Learning,” describes how “inquiry-based learning go hand-in-hand in terms of student-centered instruction.” This guided us towards posing questions that might help schools and classrooms in evaluating their current programs and give food for thought on where they may want to move their STEAM programs towards next.

  1. Does hands-on, minds-on learning take place?
  2. Is the STEAM lesson or project tied to specific, measurable learning objectives, big-picture goals, and student engagement outcomes?
  3. Is learning driven by the project through the use of driving question?
  4. Are projects geared towards creating solutions for real-world issues and centered around real-world, real-life applications?
  5. Is the project-based learning lesson or unit multidisciplinary (i.e., cross-curricular)?
  6. Is the project student-centered or teacher-driven?
  7. Does the teacher act as a facilitator?
  8. Do students learn through experience?
  9. Are projects inclusive of – and accessible to – all students, such as English language learners (ELL), special needs and accommodations, etc.?
  10. Can the Engineering Process be found at the ‘heart’ of the project-based learning lesson or unit?
  11. Is learning less structured?
  12. Do students work in cooperative, collaborative groups?
  13. Are there ample opportunities for students to provide honest, constructive feedback?
  14. Do students produce an authentic product?
  15. Do students present their outcome(s) to authentic audiences?
  16. Does the STEAM program and/classroom provide a makerspace, or a place devoted to student making?

In your district, you may find the need to expand on these initial questions, as each state and local district has unique needs and requirements. Additionally, you may find terminology or phrases above that may be different than what is being used or depicted in your current programs. One of the most common aspects that are often overlooked is that of the integration of the Engineering Design Process, which is most commonly found in middle and high school settings. 

9 Steps to Kick-Start Integrating PBL in Your STEAM Program

Time is one of the most valuable resources we have in education. 

It takes time to locate resources and plan, plan, plan for awesome lessons that really engage our students and best prepare them for life beyond school. And strategizing for new implementation models and integrating new curriculum and solutions can be a hefty undertaking too. 

As we’ve previously mentioned, introducing project-based learning into your classrooms is not something that magically and perfectly happens overnight. But if you’re looking to kick-start PBL in your STEAM programs, where do you even start with planning out units? 

When you ‘Google’ STEAM PBL resources, you will get an enormous amount of options to start digging through. Not to mention, there are a lot of ‘spins’ and opinions on the subject. You’ll also find a growing base of research as STEAM programs grow in depth and breadth,  as well as PBL strategies taking hold in districts across the nation. The point is that getting started can be a little daunting. Below are nine steps based on a combination of findings and thought leadership from PBLworks.org.

  1. Identify standards in which the project will align to and assess
  2. Identify the project topic
  3. Establish the driving question
  4. Plan and create assessment(s)
    1. Formative
    2. Summative
    3. Group
    4. Individual
    5. Pre-Assessment
    6. During Project
    7. Post Project
  5. Determine who will be the authentic audience in which the students are to present their culminating projects and findings to
  6. Provide a project summary
  7. Identify the 21st-century skills and which ones will be assessed or simply leveraged
  8. Establish project duration and timeline of activities
  9. Determine daily lesson goals within the scope of the project duration

Overlaying Backward Design on PBL

If you are a teacher, curriculum director, or administrator who requires teachers to use the Backward Design instructional design model for developing lessons, then you can easily have a solid starting point in planning for your PBL units. 

As you read through the above steps, did you start to see commonalities of how you already plan out your lessons? If you did, then you can start to imagine how overlaying Backward Design and PBL planning strategies may work.

‘Stage 1’ can include:

  1. Identify standards in which the project will align to and assess
  2. Identify the project topic
  3. Establish the driving question

‘Stage 2’ can include:

  1. Plan and create assessment(s)
  2. Determine who will be the authentic audience in which the students are to present their culminating projects and findings to
  3. Provide a project summary
  4. Identify the 21st-century skills and which ones will be assessed or simply leveraged

‘Stage 3’ can include:

  1. Establish project duration and timeline of activities
  2. Determine daily lesson goals within the scope of the project duration

Resources to Support Educators

With the growing interest and popularity of developing project-based classrooms, comes a growing number of resources that teachers can tap into to get up-and-running right away or take the ideas and modify them for themselves. Six resources you may find beneficial in your next steps of learning and implementing PBL are:

  1. Buck Institute for Education (BIE): PBLWorks.org Project Library
  2. Buck Institute for Education (BIE): PBLWorks.org PBL Resources  
  3. National Education Association: PBL Resources & Research
  4. Pi-Top Projects (when using Pi-Top devices)
  5. Edutopia’s 5 Video Series on PBL
  6. ASCD’s 7 Essentials to PBL
Children learn best when they are actively engaged in constructing something that has a personal meaning to them - be it a poem, a robot, a sandcastle or a computer program.

Seymour Papert.

05.

The Use of Technology in PBL and STEM.

As we discussed at the beginning of this overview, soft skills are a key component to 21st-century skills, technology is the aspect that we often think of when it comes to preparing our students for the future of tomorrow. So it’s no surprise that tech is a 21st-century skill and aspect of a successful PBL strategy. 

In project-based learning, the type of technology can take essentially take any form. And, to be honest, with the development of new technology and opportunities for schools to get access to different forms of technology, it’s nearly impossible to list them all. But, for the most part, schools leverage technology in the form of:

  • Hardware (i.e., desktop computers, laptops, tablets, e-readers, etc.)
  • Software (i.e., Adobe Suite programs, Google docs, blogs, etc.)
  • Apps (i.e., Various apps that allow for secure student communication)

And many of the forms of technology listed above may be best suited for communicating out ideas. But does this form of technology really solve for technology in project-based learning? Chris Regini, a science teacher at West Hollow Middle School in the Half Hollow Hills School District in Melville, New York, challenged what it meant to leverage technology in PBL.

As demonstrated in the video, technology can be in the form of ‘inclusive’ devices such as pi-top. pi-top is a mobile computing platform that leverages the Raspberry Pi.

Leveraging technology to learn 21st-century skills, core subject concepts, as well as simply preparing students for jobs of tomorrow can be life-changing for students – including getting more girls involved in coding! Imagine what we can do for our students by giving them the opportunity to learn how to code, think critically, problem-solve, and work collaboratively.

Technology Resources for Teachers

Many schools leverage various funding to acquire the resources they need to support their project-based learning initiatives. Federal ESSA funding supports opportunities to acquire resources, and state and local funding opportunities can often be leveraged to ease access to technology and build 21st-century programs in schools. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t tell our teachers about some of the great free resources you have available to you when you use pi-top devices in your classroom. In addition to the library of projects available in pi-top’s FURTHER platform, below are some external resources you might find helpful to get up-and-running using pi-top. And, just as a reminder, teachers, you don’t need to have a computer science degree to use pi-top in your rooms! Seriously. Get in touch with us and will explain how easy it is to get started with your students!

Raspberry Pi Project Resources for Teachers:
  1. Raspberry Pi- What is it?
  2. Raspberry Pi Tutorials
  3. Raspberry Pi Projects 
  4. Adafruit’s free Raspberry Pi Projects
  5. Sparkfun’s Raspberry Pi guides, projects, and more
  6. Instructable’s Raspberry Pi projects
  7. pi-top’s 15 Cool Projects You can Make with Your pi-top (Part 1)
  8. pi-top’s 15 Cool Projects You can Make with Your pi-top (Part 2)
  9. pi-top’s fun podcast project: Food in Class with Chris Regini
Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society ... But for me, education means making creators ... You have to make inventors, innovators, not conformists.

Jean Piaget.

06.

How Does Learning by Making Fit Into Project-Based Learning?

If you read through our 16 questions to evaluate your current STEAM PBL program, then you probably saw the last one that asked: “Does the STEAM program and classroom provide a makerspace, or a place devoted to student making?”

Makerspaces isn’t a term often used … yet.

So, have you heard of makerspaces? 

If you haven’t yet, I’m sure you’ll start to see this term pop-up more often moving forward. Makerspaces can be found in libraries, schools, and various locations around cities throughout the world. Makerspaces can also be found in our classrooms. While makerspaces can take on a variety of definitions depending on who you ask, essentially, they are collaborative spaces that allow people of all ages - not just student aged - to explore, tinker, collaborate, and learn within high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech activities.

The ‘maker movement,’ like project- and problem-based learning, is another example of a learner-centric, active-learning methodology. As another form of constructionism, ‘maker’ education is based on learners developing an idea and then designing and creating an external representation of that idea. And, as with other constructionist approaches, it is learner-driven, with learner agency at its philosophical core. However, perhaps more than any other constructionist framework, maker education emphasizes “constructing knowledge through the act of making.”

Maker education works to prepare learners for the real world by giving them opportunities to approach, consider, and address real-world challenges of their own choosing, making whatever solutions or projects they feel are appropriate to do so. 

A commonly described benefit of maker spaces is that they are not bound to a specific time or location. So, in addition to classrooms setting up maker spaces, they can also be established in a variety of settings and schedules outside of the core classroom. Maker spaces can be found in:

  • libraries
  • ‘special’ classes
  • after school programs
  • before school programs
  • tutoring sessions
  • summer schools, and more!

And makerspaces work! 

Dan Ryder, teacher at Mt. Blue High School (and also a pi-top champion!), has three examples of student work that show how makerspaces transform student learning and achievement. Read his amazing story (straight from him) and how they started The Success & Innovation Center! 

As you start to develop or expand upon your STEAM project-based program, creating a makerspace will ensure students have a place that is dedicated to exploring and thinking about the world around them. 

STEAM PBL programs:

  • are inclusive to all our learners
  • promote the development of 21st-century skills
  • encourage our students to think creatively and critically
  • provide opportunities for our students to work collaboratively and in teams
  • equip students with communication and conflict resolution skills
  • allows for safe environments for our students to try and fail and try again
  • and provide so many more benefits!

Mistakes Happen … and Teachers Need to Follow PBL Practices Too!

Despite all our wonderful intentions, sometimes, we, as teachers, make mistakes when implementing project-based learning and learning by making. First and foremost, it’s okay – and forgive yourself. Like we talked about earlier, project-based learning is not something you can easily implement with perfection, or even success, overnight. After you’ve forgiven yourself, reflect on what went wrong, when it went wrong, and revise! Just like we do when we’ve created a lesson that didn’t exactly go as planned. Another pro-tip is to learn from other teachers who have ‘been there, done that’ and have a t-shirt or two to back it up.

We’ve outlined five common mistakes to avoid when building a maker space in your school

Throughout this reading, we’ve talked about the research, purpose, and goals of project-based learning, social constructivism, and learning by making. Social Constructionism is designed to give learners the sorts of critical thinking, creative, collaborative, and communication skills vital to thriving today and tomorrow. If you’re looking to jump-start your maker space, or take it to the next level, pi-top has you covered!

Have your say about pi-top's professional development program

07.

STEAM PBL and pi-top

Ready to Inspire Your Students, Implement Project-Based Learning, and Create Problem Solvers of Tomorrow? It’s Easy to Get Started with pi-top!

pi-top is committed to providing high-quality, engaging technology that is designed to inspire students to think ‘what if’ – and to start thinking critically about the world around them and challenges they can solve for. And the best part … teachers don’t need to have a computer programming background to get started! Leverage our library of projects to inspire a generation of makers to become the future problem solvers!

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