This is a story of how great STEM, project-based, hands-on learning truly is for our generation of students. While gaining traction as a new and more sophisticated method for teaching science, I was taught to teach via project-based learning and STEM during my education. It has paid off tremendously. A study of one of my students is a classic case.
“Sergio” was an 8th grade student who attended school seemingly just for the social status and popularity instead of trying to achieve. It was, however, not his fault. A lack of proper instruction in the past and proper support seemed to be the cause. He assumed science was unimportant and could not make the connection to real life. As the semester ended around Christmas, I could see his curiosity had been piqued. Sergio had started to learn the nature of science. He became well versed in the scientific theory and how new science is established. Instructional stratgies to reach this level of learning included many formative assessments, complete hands-on learning liberty, and the freedom to make choices and learn from failure.
By being able to reach a valid conclusion about his own interests and questions, his curiosity for science increased. When we resumed the following January, it was evident that Sergio was now taking his education in the sciences seriously.
Science fair season was upon us: the ultimate STEM, project-based learning opportunity was here! For myself, this was an opportunity to provide resources and guidance for students, like Sergio, whose attitude had slowly shifted towards a love of science. I saw an unbelievable transformation occur as he took it upon himself to complete a project geared toward the effects of dyes and food coloring on the staining of teeth. Sergio, the student whose abilities in higher thinking were rarely openly displayed, was now leading the class in carrying out his scientific investigation!
Then the payoff came. Our annual school science fair was held and Sergio secured a top 5 finish and the opportunity to compete at the national level during our CONSEF Science and Engineering Fair. He made revisions to his project, mastered his knowledge of the subject, and nervously presented it in Cleveland in April.
Conclusion: Sergio ended up receiving a Bronze award! He went from not having much scientific knowledge or skill to achieving such an award in the span of one school year. It was astounding! The long-awaited justification of STEM-related instruction and project-based learning as a supremely effective tool for instruction was evident.
Being able to reach a valid conclusion about his own interests and questions, his curiosity for science increased. Sergio has since excelled in class and his excitement for science is clearly represented in his behavior. Check…and mate.
For Drew Bradley, science is an undeniable passion. Some people enter college with their majors undecided, whereas he was profoundly certain that science would be his focus. While maintaining his hobby and honing his skills of being a blues guitarist , his second great passion, he exited Ball State University with a pre-med, BS in biology. Unfortunately, graduating college in 2010, during the heart of the Great Recession, opportunities in science were limited, but he knew what he wanted to do after taking some education courses at the end of his degree. Drew completed his Masters of Arts in Teaching Science at Western Governors University, and nestled into a great opportunity at Indiana Math and Science Academy West in Indianapolis, IN (http://north.imsaindy.org).