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STEM Education, teaching, math, computing, computers, technologyHow many of us remember dissecting a frog? Or perhaps you can complete this phrase: “I” before “e” except after… I rest my case. Teaching is one of the oldest professions and so are the majority of the approaches to subject matter.

The standard lecture, standing in front of a class with facts and formulas on a dry erase board are leaving children disengaged and wanting more (after all, didn’t we dream of school being less boring?). Some schools, like Manor New Technology High School in Texas, have tossed away the textbooks and advance placement classes and replaced them with project-based learning.

Why is Project-Based Learning different?

Unlike the traditional approach of one project per year, Manor students are required to complete 65 projects per year and one public presentation…  Each project is in compliance with state standards and taps into local business community, said Steve Zipkes, Manor’s founding principal at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference.

Project-based learning incorporates skills like critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving. Giving students projects improves engagement and prepares them for college and the workforce. This hands-on approach forces the students to think through their problems and come to a solution, rather than memorizing formulas and dates.

Is Manor High alone?

Project-Based Learning represent roughly one percent of U.S. schools. Tech High in San Diego, Metro Early College High School in Ohio and City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco are just some of the schools that subscribe to this teaching method.

Project-based learning demands more effort from teachers and students which often results in pushback, says Deb Sachs, director of the Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellows program at the University of Indianapolis. This program also includes a sequence involving project-based learning.

Teamwork is crucial…

Switching to a project based curriculum isn’t easy; it requires collaboration, flexibility and, most importantly, practice Sachs said. Teachers should get feedback from their peers on different proposals and learn what works and what doesn’t, preventing potential holes in their lessons.

"Like anything new, you're going to get better at it the more you do it," she says. "The first project you do will probably need significant revision, and that's okay."

To fully adopt project-based learning, professional development is crucial. In an email to U.S. News, Sue Ramlo, a physics and education professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, said that training needs to be an ongoing consistent thing, “not just a webinar or a workshop that lasts for a few days."

On top of learning a new style of teaching, project-based requires that students come up with the answers on their own, Ramlo said.  Asking teachers to take a step back. "If that trust is not present, then the teachers will be tempted to give students answers, resort to teaching lectures that are textbook dependent," she notes, instead of "letting students explore the answers using the many resources available to them."

Because textbooks and dissecting frogs are a thing of the past!

  • Jul 10, 2013 1:30:00 PM
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