Congratulations to our 2014 Siemens Summer of Learning Fellows!

STEM Blog

Letting go with PBL: Opening Doors to Deeper and More Authentic Student Learning Opportunities

 

Welcome to series of Blog Posts brought to you by some amazing past Siemens STEM Institute and STARs Fellows. Today's guest blogger is David Kujawski who teaches 6th grade science at Bird Middle School in E. Walpole, MA. Take a moment to discover more about David  following his  post. Please be sure to read and share…  make sure you give us a  follow on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad . As always, thanks for joining us at the Siemens STEM Academy!  Now… read on… and  have a STEMtastic week! – Mike Gorman

I have taught an environmental science unit for the past 9 years as a middle school educator using teacher-led activities with predictable learning outcomes.  I measured student learning with various forms of formative assessments, such as exit tickets, clicker responses, and the like, but there was something missing.  What is it you ask?  I had to let go of steering my students towards specific learning outcomes.  That’s right; opening up true inquiry by letting kids come up with their own driving questions allows them to become intimately familiar with what they were learning about ecology.  As the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) states, the project is the ‘main course’ of PBL, ‘not the dessert.’  In that, we are often tempted to plan content-heavy lessons and then assess learning via a project at the conclusion of each unit.  Additionally, we tend to assign projects that lack authenticity—direct connections to students lives that matter—resulting in uninspired projects that teeter towards busywork.  When teachers plan truly authentic PBL units, students’ questions take center stage as they research their topic, ultimately leading to solving a real issue in their community.  The project is the unit, not the summative assessment that skims the surface of true learning.  And it all starts with a great driving question.

After reading extensively about the BIE’s model for Project-Based Learning (PBL), I delved into the world of authentic learning experiences by asking students—“How do suburban lifestyles impact the ecology of our town?”  This question framed each group’s research of a specific environmental/ecological problem that affects Walpole’s ecology and human health.  To begin, I introduced students to a specific inquiry framework to follow when investigating their own questions about their ecological issue (figure 1).  Students then researched potential topics to investigate and picked their favorite.  They then framed their research by developing a guiding question of their own.   BIE has many resources that you can use to help your students, including a Tubric—a device that serves as a springboard for generating inquiry questions.  Once students have their questions they begin becoming experts on the ecological issue.  The two main challenges that teachers face when planning PBL units include letting go of control and assessment of student learning.

Providing structure with the inquiry process framework helps students focus their studies from class-to-class, but how do educators assess student understanding?  In many ways, assessing student learning is similar to a typical teacher-led lesson, only now the assessment questions might vary from group to group.  Since each group will be inquiring about different topics, such as low water availability or storm water pollution, you can circulate around the room to ask about specific ecology-related NGSS science standards.  Additionally, you can simply ask students what they’ve just learned.  My favorite question to ask is “How has your understanding of the topic changed over the past few minutes?”   This will allow you to “dip-stick” to assess student understanding of content and then see what questions they should raise—a ‘need to know’ list, if you will.  I also like to assign reflections as a form of assessment.  I simply ask students to reflect on their new found knowledge and ask them to create a ‘need to know’ list of topics to frame the extent of their research the next day.  For example, I asked students to pick which energy role—producer, consumer or decomposer—is the most important to an ecosystem.   At first, they have to get a general understanding of each energy role and then analyze the impact(s) that each one has on their ecosystem.  After inquiring, following the inquiry process, they develop a deeper understanding of each energy role and can explain how each one impacts their local ecosystem.  In a subsequent assessment I will ask them to write another reflection about the same question and base their response on the evidence collected during class.  Students realize that each energy role plays a crucial role in their ecosystem; one is not more important than the other.  This is a good time to tie in crosscutting concepts, such as matter and energy conservation, which leads to additional assessments.   For example, I could ask students to analyze a model of a food web to explain the significance of the arrows that connect various organisms.  Most students may initially respond that the arrow signifies energy moving from the prey into the predator, but they cannot clearly explain how much energy transfers from one organism to the other.  Additionally, they may not make connections that matter is also used by the predator to grow.  These shortcomings in their understanding can drive inquiry in subsequent lessons.  You can then ask the same question again to measure student understanding of the content.   The difference is that they will be investigating the topic as it pertains to their ecological issue.  Assessment in PBL actually promotes the incorporation of ELA Common Core Standards, especially those that ask students to formulate arguments using evidence from text.  As more and more schools adjust to adopting NGSS, they may also find science notebooks as a useful tool for tracking student learning.

Science notebooks have replaced binders in my PBL units.   There are many reasons for this, including serving as a place for students to record their ‘need to know’ lists and research findings, record observations from outside field trips where they investigate the biotic and abiotic factors in our schoolyard ecosystem, etc.  However, the main goal for using a science notebook is to prevent me from giving worksheets, as I would be tempted to do if they had a binder.  I still give handouts, but they are in the form of mini sheets of paper—which are stapled into their notebooks—that help guide students with their inquiry.  Previously, I viewed worksheets as a tool for implementing an activity that reinforced the content that I directly instructed during class.  The worksheet assessed students’ abilities to regurgitate information; they by no means inspired learning or made the content come to live.  PBL, however, does enable learning to come to live and has truly changed my perspective on teaching and learning.  I now have a better sense of what inquiry-based learning means and how to incorporate it more effectively.

Reflections on my PBL experiences:  I originally thought that it was impossible to cover content standards through PBL, but that is no longer the case.  In our PBL unit we investigated questions that were teeming with content.  Granted, the content may not be learned in the same structured sequence as in a standard classroom, but that shouldn’t be our concern as educators.  Empowering students, through authentic learning experiences, should be our focus—not vocab memorization or trivial knowledge that is assessed on a quiz and then forgotten afterwards.  If we really want to impact the future of STEM, whether it’s teaching kids to be more connected to their local ecosystem or engineering solutions to problems, we must plan lessons and units that involve real-world scenarios and connections.  Just talking about them isn’t enough, however.  Our kids need to make connections to their own lives and inquiry-based learning makes that possible.

Tips: Planning a PBL unit should start with looking at the NGSS and picking several that you would like to incorporate.  You should then think of what you would like students to do with the information that they have acquired through their inquiry.  In our ecology unit, I wanted to cover NGSS MS-LS2-1 through MS-LS2-5.  The summative assessments assigned for each group included a Pecha Kucha presentation about the issue and how it impacts ecological and human health and they also had to create educational materials that empower citizens to improve their environments by altering their lifestyles.  Pecha Kucha presentations are a new, more engaging presentation where presenters place images on each slide and then have 20 seconds to discuss the slide before it switches to the next one.  It’s kind of like a TED talk meets PowerPoint; highly engaging presentations that allow students to be creative and concise.  I mean, who wants to drudge through class after class of PowerPoint presentations?!  Give Pecha Kucha a try; you will be very pleased with the results.  My students will be presenting in front of actual ecologists, environmental engineers and town officials which adds to making the experience more meaningful, as well.  When it comes to the day-to-day lessons don’t be afraid to stop the inquiry process and implement more structured lessons.  For example, I planned a lesson that had students go outside to survey the biotic and abiotic factors in our schoolyard.  It’s one thing to research ecological issues; it is completely more meaningful for students to actually experience their findings first hand.  So, take them outside, mix it up, see where it takes them.  Most importantly, you need to embrace student-centered learning and let go of being in direct control!  In a way, PBL ties many differentiation tactics, which is another great reason—as if you needed on!—to  give is a try.

I hope that I painted a picture of what PBL can mean for you and your students.  If you would like to know more about PBL please take a look at the resources that I have included below.  An informed teacher is an effective teacher.  Become informed about PBL by reaching out to your global PLC community through DEN, twitter or blogs, and help bring learning to life for your students.  Remember: it’s not about getting through content; it’s about making the content relevant through authentic learning experiences.

Resources:

http://bie.org/ Go here to find information about Project Based Learning

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/the-inquiry-process/ This is a graphic organizer that I use to help my students with inquiry based learning

http://www.pechakucha.org/ This link will introduce you to the world of Pecha Kucha presentations

  David Kujawski, East Walpole, MA ... Bird Middle School

Twitter @STEMatBirdMS.

David Kujawski, of Franklin, MA, teaches 6th grade science at Bird Middle School in E. Walpole, MA.  David holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College, an M.A.T. from Simmons College and a STEM Education Certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University through the NASA Endeavor Science Teacher Certificate Fellowship Project (Cohort 2).  He has been teaching science for about 9.5 years in formal, informal and higher education settings.  He is a 2013 Siemens STEM Fellow, NASA Endeavor Fellow (Cohort 2) and has been published in the NSTA Science Scope Journal.

We hope you enjoyed reading about making that STEM Tech Integration plan with David.  Please take the time to retweet and pass this information out to other STEM educators you think might be interested!  Now is also a great time to sign up for an RSS feed and also follow us on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad.  We have more great STEM information coming your way including more STEM ideas from our past Fellows. Have a great week  and take some time to start making your own STEMtastic learning connections… today. – Mike Gorman (21centuryedtech)    

Posted on August 15, 2014 by Michael Gorman
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Siemens STEM Institute... 2014 Fellows To Promote STEM in Classrooms, Communities, States, and Beyond

 

Welcome back to this very special week of posts. In this post you will  have the opportunity to learn from and network with those at the  Siemens STEM Academy. It is  STEM Institute  Week at Discovery World Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Join us all week and please be sure to read and share… make sure you give us a follow on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad . As always, thanks for joining us at the Siemens STEM Academy! Now… read on… and be sure to come back each day for a STEMtastic week of information and resources! – Mike Gorman

While it was the closing day of another Siemens Institute, it was a new beginning for the STEM Fellows and the students, educators, and districts they will be working with in the coming years. At the closing ceremonies it was obvious that the Fellows were excited about the new opportunities as they return to their schools and districts. They expressed their appreciation to the Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education for the wonderful week of opportunities they were part of. This included wonderful talks from STEM experts, opportunities to network with other STEM professionals, discovering new STEM opportunities, activities, and lessons, exploring some behind the scene STEM venues in Washington DC, and having a chance to be informed and give input at a White House Conference Center Meeting. It was an amazing week of experiences that all Fellows expressed was something that every STEM educators should have the opportunity to be a part of. It was obvious that these STEM educators will affect thousands of others through out the national STEM community.

How does one really express such a wonderful week of STEM Education? Perhaps it is in the collective thoughts of the participants. The graphic above is a Word Cloud representing the desires and hopes of each of the STEM Fellows. As in any word cloud, the larger words represent frequency of mention. A lot can be seen from the words inside the cloud. It is evident that the fellows are grateful to the Siemens Foundation, have a strong vision and mission to support STEM education, and put students at the forefront.  Keep looking and you will find even more! You can read each of the Fellows statements (entries for the word cloud) on the 2014 STEM Fellows Site along with their professional biography.

Thank you for joining us through out the week as we highlighted some of the various activities at the Siemens STEM Institute. Please continue to return to the Siemens STEM Academy Website as we feature the 2014 STEM Fellows through blog posts, resources, and webinars. We are certain that the 2014 STEM Fellows will make a continuous and lasting impact in their classrooms, districts, communities,  organizations, professional development venues,  governmental agencies, and most of all... with their students.

We hope you enjoyed following our week's activities and also discovered some valuable  resources that could be a part of your STEM curriculum.  Please take the time to retweet and pass this information out to other STEM educators you think might be interested!  Now is also a great time to sign up for an RSS feed and also follow us on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad.  We have more great STEM information coming your way. Have a great week  and take some time to start making your own STEMtastic learning connections… today. – Mike Gorman  

Posted on August 11, 2014 by Michael Gorman
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Why STEM? Why now? by Dr. Cindy Moss

 

Welcome back to this very special week of posts. In this post you will  have the opportunity to learn from and network with those at the  Siemens STEM Academy. It is  STEM Institute  Week at Discovery World Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Join us all week and please be sure to read and share… make sure you give us a follow on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad . As always, thanks for joining us at the Siemens STEM Academy! Now… read on… and be sure to come back each day for a STEMtastic week of information and resources! – Mike Gorman

It was Thursday morning and a great day to give STEM an even a further definition. The Siemens STEM Fellows were in for a special treat from  Dr. Cindy Moss the Director of Global STEM for Discovery. Cindy taught high school biology,chemistry and anatomy for 21 years in Syracuse, NY, and Charlotte, NC, before becoming the PreK-12 STEM Director for the 145,000 students and 10,000 teachers in her district. As a teacher, she won numerous local,regional and national awards including the MIlken National Teaching Award (often considered the “Oscars of Teaching”). At the helm of STEM, she made major changes in the culture of the district and decreased the achievement gap significantly. Most recently she was selected as “1 of the 100 Women Leaders in STEM” by US News and World Report. A sought-after speaker on STEM achievement, Dr. Moss meets with school systems, companies, nonprofits and education agencies helping them transform STEM teaching and learning around the world. Take a look at some of the major key points of this engaging keynote, or better yet watch the archived livestream. You may walk away with an even broader definition of what STEM education is all about.

Discovery Definition of STEM..... "Students and Teachers Energizing Minds"

Key Points

  • Statistics show that we are in need of science and math education
  • Goes beyond the extra-curricular
  • STEM happens in every classroom
  • STEM is a culture... it is thinking and learning
  • Teachers in the US need more time for planning and PD
  • Less emphasis on standardized testing
  • Engage the business community
  • Reverse the statement... Career and College Ready
  • To change culture ... 160 hours of PD over 3 years' time
  • How are you telling your STEM story?

In the Classroom

  • Ask questions... difficult to answer
  • Make observations... what do you see? what do you know? what do you wonder?
  • Projects need to be authentic
  • Allow for kinesthetic activities and movement
  • Create rooms that promote collaboration and activities
  • Students should present
  • Failing is the "First Attempt In Learning"

Links

Stem Connector - STEMconnector® is "The one-stop for STEM Information." With an innovative product-line, STEMconnector® works closely with corporations and other organizations to provide them with a set of tools and resources that support their corporate development, corporate structure and smart STEM investments.

Discovery STEM - As part of our commitment to STEM education for all students, we are excited to announce the launch of the Discovery Education STEM Camp - a dynamic series of standards-aligned curricula available at no cost to schools, districts, non-profit organizations, and parents for use as part of summer camps, after-school STEM programs or wherever support is needed. STEM Camp combines hands-on labs, engineering challenges, digital investigations, and more - all designed to immerse kids in the grand challenges of science set forth by the National Academy of Engineering.

The DEN - A global community of education professionals that are passionate about transforming the learning experience with digital media, the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) connects members across town and around the world through social media, virtual conferences and in-person events — fostering valuable networking, idea-sharing and inspiration. If you are passionate about transforming learning experiences with digital media, sharing resources, collaborating, and networking we invite you to take the next step in the DEN. Become a STAR Discovery Educator. It's easy. Just remember STAR:

Donors Choose - This organization is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on our site, and you can give any amount to the project that most inspires you.

Link To The Streaming Video

We hope you follow our week's activities while you learn about resources that could be a part of your STEM curriculum.  Please take the time to retweet and pass this information out to other STEM educators you think might be interested!  Now is also a great time to sign up for an RSS feed and also follow us on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad.  We have more great STEM information coming your way. Have a great week  and take some time to start making your own STEMtastic learning connections… today. – Mike Gorman

Posted on August 8, 2014 by Michael Gorman
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Soaring with Siemens STEM Fellows at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Welcome back to this very special week of posts. In this post you will  have the opportunity to learn from and network with those at the  Siemens STEM Academy. It is  STEM Institute  Week at Discovery World Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Join us all week and please be sure to read and share… make sure you give us a follow on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad . As always, thanks for joining us at the Siemens STEM Academy! Now… read on… and be sure to come back each day for a STEMtastic week of information and resources! – Mike Gorman

The Siemens STEM Institute Fellows were in engaged Tuesday in over 15 hours of activities through out Washington DC. One of many stops was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. This amazing museum maintains the world's largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts. It allows visitors to investigate  the aspects of human flight, as well as related works of art and archival materials. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum operates two landmark facilities (Museum in Washington, DC and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) located near Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia).  These two museums together welcome more than eight million visitors a year. Needless to say,  it  is the most visited museum in the country. It also is home to the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. Arriving before the museum opened allowed the Fellows to tour three of the exhibits. The Fellows were introduced and escorted by each of the exhibits' curators. They included:

There are about 45 exhibits that can be found at between the two facilities. When not in Washington you and your students can still visit these other engaging exhibits online online:

A must visit online resource for educators and students is a wonderful area entitled, Why Things Fly. Kid have the opportunity to learn some amazing concepts. What makes an airplane fly? How does a spacecraft stay in orbit? Why does a balloon float in the air?  Another interactive allows students to "Ask an Explainer". An Explainer is a highly trained high school or college student who can answer your questions about how things fly. Some great readings that students can partake in can be found at the Air Space Blog. This is a great resource to provide readings in the STEM content areas. The Fellows later journeyed to other amazing DC STEM locations, but will long keep this amazing museum of flight on there STEM Resource Radar! It is one that you may also want to take a flight to, on the web!

We hope you follow our week's activities while you learn about resources that could be a part of your STEM curriculum.  Please take the time to retweet and pass this information out to other STEM educators you think might be interested!  Now is also a great time to sign up for an RSS feed and also follow us on twitter at SiemensSTEMAcad.  We have more great STEM information coming your way. Have a great week  and take some time to start making your own STEMtastic learning connections… today. – Mike Gorman

Posted on August 7, 2014 by Michael Gorman
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