On Friday the 24th of August I had the fortunate experience of attending a fully subsidised professional development session at Quantum Victoria. I had been on the waiting list for months and so I jumped at the chance when I was offered a place due to another delegate's cancellation.
Project Based Learning in STEM and other disciplines has many definitions, here is a comprehensive one: Project-based learning provides an opportunity for real world connections to be made and contexts explored within the four disciplines of STEM. Project expectations are made at the start of the project and are revisited with checkpoints for understanding using a range of assessment strategies. Students have models and guidelines for high quality work and know what is expected of them to successfully complete the project. Opportunities for reflection, feedback, and modifications are provided through various stages in the project. Technology is used in a range of ways to enhance and promote student learning and deepen understanding. Projects pose important questions for students to think about and inquiries for students to explore. Students engage in critical and creative thinking as they solve the problem presented. Teachers play a crucial role in framing questions and guiding students to think and frame their thoughts and devise possible solutions as they work mathematically, scientifically and technologically to solve problems which present themselves.
A major consideration when planning projects is catering for the learning needs of all students. Students learn best by making connections, designing, building, testing, evaluating and modifying designs until the project outcomes are achieved. Throughout this process students are actively engaging in critical and creative thinking. They engage in active problem solving by gathering data to inform planning, when they conduct investigations, designing or through the development of prototypes and solutions. They leverage digital technologies throughout the project in communicating findings, solving problems, and assisting with the collation and analysis of data.
For the source of this definition, click here.
The day promoted the learning benefits of Project Based Learning (PBL):
- Requires contemporary learning skills
- Focuses on work that matters
- Requires critical thinking, communication and active problem-solving
The highlight of the day was when the teams we were sitting in were given our own 'Ungoogleable' question.
'Can we create a simple, low-cost robotic hand with the same function as a human hand'
We became the students with one hour, textas, butchers paper and a treasure trove of resources, to solve it. I initiated a plan, based on the human body: bones, skeletal muscles and tendons, then communicated it to my team, then I scoped the resources to see if it was possible and used a drawing to further explain my thinking. We were all on board.
We discovered a motor on our table, so two of our four team members began to investigate the possibility of incorporating a motorised element rather than keeping it analogue, while the remaining two participants commenced construction. After several tests we established that time restraints would prevent this additional feature, so two became four once more and we continued construction. We achieved a completed (some would say life-like hand, thanks to a watch and artificial nails...polished of course) by the deadline.
Then group by group we presented our plan and completed 'hand' to the class.
Whilst our 'hand' could give a handshake hi-five and hold and transfer a cup 1m, it could not hold a ping-pong ball for the intended 1m transfer.
There were a variety of designs and two of the groups did achieve the challenge...but a team member turned to me and said, "Yes, but which group got the most laughs?"
True. We certainly had showmanship in our presentation.
In the book I am reading at the moment, The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein PhD, I had just read a passage that makes the connection between enjoyment, engagement and learning. So my team member raised a valid point.
"Mood influences mental ability. How easy it is to raise people's spirits, and that happiness and reason are not mutually exclusive. Students who can laugh and are comfortable in class learn more easily. Employees who enjoy their work will also be productive.
As the saying goes: The brain runs on fun."
At the completion of our presentations our facilitators asked us,
Is Product more important than Process?
A resounding "No".
We still practised all of the behaviours that we were trying to encourage. We reflected on our learning and were able to make suggestions about modification to improve the design as well.
The speakers were:
Latha Shivasubramanian, an Education Officer with a background in Engineering, Computer Science and Project Management. She has completed further study gaining her Master's degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics; and Nathan Moore, a Leading Teacher who has lead the IT research program 'Classrooms of the Future' at Charles La Trobe College, who has extensive expertise in the Digital Technologies.
Natasha will be continuing with a long-term project of a rather large scale . She has now commenced her leave of absence from CHPS to complete the growing of, then ejecting and rearing another infant. We look forward to having her back soon.