DELIVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT PROJECT-BASED SCIENCE IN THE CLASSROOM
The delivery of project-based science, in the high school classroom, is the hallmark of progressive educational reform in our schools. Effective models of learning in the science classroom should include the following aspect as presented by the Buck Institute for Education (http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl/):
“In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student "voice and choice," rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations. “
Buck Institute outlines essential components of Project-Based Learning in the Science Classroom
- is intended to teach significant content. Goals for student learning are explicitly derived from content standards and key concepts at the heart of academic disciplines.
- requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. To answer a Driving Question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as “21st century skills,” because they are prerequisite for success in the 21st century workplace.
- requires inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new. Students ask questions, search for answers, and arrive at conclusions, leading them to construct something new: an idea, an interpretation, or a product.
- is organized around an open-ended Driving Question. This focuses students’ work and deepens their learning by framing important issues, debates, challenges or problems.
- creates a need to know essential content and skills. Project Based Learning reverses the order in which information and concepts are traditionally presented. A typical unit with a “project” add-on begins by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once gained, giving students the opportunity to apply them. Project Based Learning begins with the vision of an end product or presentation. This creates a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
- allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
- includes processes for revision and reflection. Students learn to give and receive feedback in order to improve the quality of the products they create, and are asked to think about what and how they are learning.
- involves a public audience. Students present their work to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher – in person or online. This “ups the stakes,” increasing students’motivation to do high-quality work, and adds to the authenticity of the project.
Student intrinsic motivation to learn is by far the most benefitted aspect of this methodology employed in the classroom to learn science. This process (doing science) demands commitment by both teachers and students to seize opportunities for knowledge, creating new avenues to learn, and foster greater understanding while solving real-world problems.
The genius of the Earth Stewardship Project stems from years of research and design of new educational pedagogy that most effectively addresses the learning of concepts in science. This new project involves student research and experimentation into the physical and chemical conditions necessary to optimize plant growth while utilizing natural organic fertilizers and carbon-free sources of energy. The goal of the project is to find the best means by which to produce organically grown herbs and vegetables.
A number of innovative methodologies will be pursued by students conducting experiments during this year-long project. The essential components of the project are the following: Developing hydroponics plant systems, designing aquaponic fish- plant systems, creating multiple greenhouse plant production units and cultivating the production of vermicompost from worm farms.
Another PBL educational initiative is the scientific investigation into the use of alternative sources of energy and the conservation of energy.
Introduction: The use of alternative energy sources is an avenue to clean energy. Scientific investigation will include literature readings on the topic of interest and designing a model of an experimental research project that will lead to greater understanding of the concepts of energy production, consumption and the transfer process involved in delivering energy to specific locations.
Design Models: The experimental design problems will include one the following sources of energy output:
1. Solar panels technology producing electrical energy output.
2. Wind Turbines technology producing electrical energy output.
3. Fuel Cells powered by hydrogen gas producing electrical energy output.
4. Design of Storage Mediums allowing for the capture and retention of sources of energy for future use. Storage mediums will include batteries, hydrogen gas and potential energy of water, air or other forms of mass.
5. Transfer of light radiation energy and the biochemical energy of macronutrients and micronutrients from vermicompost into biochemical energy held within the structure of plants.
Students working on these PBL assignments begin by brainstorming new ideas for long-term scientific research. One of the goals of the project is to address the need to increase carbon-free sources of energy when producing electricity. Students also seize upon the opportunity to grow crops in the classroom without a carbon-footprint. The challenges faced by students working to solve these problems provides the model for learning science that increases students’ understanding while helping to fosters higher levels of intrinsic motivation to learn and achieve.
For weeks students in physics and physical science classes at Streamwood High School have learned fundamental concepts on the physical and chemical nature of matter. Innovation and inspired problem solving have quickly become their focus as they employ learned skills and abilities to produce electrical energy from non-carbon means and to grow organic herbs and vegetables in the classroom carbon-free.
The challenge is to rise to the level of leadership, innovation and collaboration necessary for success in the 21st century classroom. A glimpse of this sacred effort by PBL driven teachers executing PBL based curriculum, is expressed by Thomas Friedman in the book called Hot, Flat and Crowded. In his book he notes that being a world leader in the 21st century means leading in the innovation of clean power and energy efficiency. “It means inspiring an ethic of conservation toward the natural world which is increasingly imperiled.”
Educational initiatives in science education can be the ground-zero genius of this innovation and discovery. This is where America can unite and be propelled socially and economically by a common purpose. This commonality is expressed in Project-based learning models fueling the driving questions, while becoming the catalyst for discovery and solutions to problems.