Real-world problems and project-based learning

Adapting big science for a middle school classroom

real-world problems and project-based learningOne of the keys of the Project-Based Learning approach is to engage students in solving real-world problems. Ideally, students are involved in exploring relevant and authentic challenges in their community, state, nation, or world. Sometimes teachers and students have to search hard for a need or an opportunity.

But other times it falls into our laps.

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The Floating Classroom

by Dayna McRoberts

lying_on_a_dockThe Community Sailing Center (CSC) in Burlington has developed a multi-age, year-round environmental curriculum that works in conjunction with local schools to teach the opportunistic, seasonal lessons provided by Burlington’s landscape. Floating Classrooms engages students with their environment through ecology, science, and a medium the CSC holds dear: sailing.

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Making a difference with watershed science data

Students partner with local scientists in collecting, analyzing & disseminating water data

interpreting watershed science dataA group of 7th and 8th grade students took a trip through the full cycle of scientific study this past year. Edmunds Middle School students partnered with the UVM Watershed Alliance to study the Lake Champlain Direct and Grand Isles Basins, very specifically, the Potash Brook that runs close by the school.

At the conclusion of the project, they presented the outcome of their studies in a variety of different ways, leveraging online tools to maximize the impact of their dissemination.

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Making even more of “Beyond Bling”

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonA couple of weeks ago, Lucie deLaBruere of Learning with Lucie shared a post considering how we can embrace the emerging interest in Makerspace learning to move “Beyond Bling.” This post ignited my thinking about this type of learning in a number of different ways. I thought I’d take today to explore some of those thoughts in a commentary about the ideas in the post. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to go back and check it out. Once you have done that, I think you might be interested in further considerations of complex problems, project-based learning, and constructionism as a learning philosophy. Continue reading

Student-made geology games

Putting a human face on science storytelling

student-made geology gamesLava flows down the halls of Main Street Middle School, in Montpelier, Vermont, and you must choose whether you’ll go with the flow or try to cool off somewhere and become an igneous rock. In another portion of the school, you’re the new kid, getting a tour from one of your peers when a volcano erupts, and you have only your geology wits (and a science teacher with fabulous hair) to save you.

These are middle schoolers building mobile, place-based games with ARIS, taking advantage of the game editor’s powerful new re-design and one science educator’s trust in letting his students demonstrate what and how they learn.

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Beyond Bling: how do we deepen Makerspace learning?

How do we move all new learners to the deep end of the pool?

how do we deepen Makerspace learning?

Photo by Cecilia Denhard. CC 2.0

As I walked through an innovation showcase at SxSw 2015 (one of the the largest convergences of creative and critical thinkers last March) I was struck by the juxtaposition of two tables that were adjacent to each other.

One offered “Creative Circuit kits provide girls with all of the materials to make 10+ arts, crafts, and fashion projects with technology” the other offered “opportunities for students to replicate experiments you perform in your classrooms using an Arduino kit and a sensor kit on a nano-satellite via Nasa’s CubeSat Launch Initiatives.”

As a long time advocate for initiatives that increase the confidence and skills of girls with technology, I appreciate that the “creative circuit kit” might provide a great opportunity to engage girls with technology, but I find myself concerned that it would be easy to gain a false sense of accomplishment if we don’t move beyond ‘bling’.

I find myself wondering what are the steps that connect the excitement from “blink blink” to the curiosity that leaves you wondering “what type of sensor do I need to create an experiment that I can test in space?”

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Sugaring and the community part 2: Students become teachers

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark Olofson

Last week we looked at the sugaring operation at Essex Middle School. The students at the Edge Academy built a sugar house a few years ago, and now they produce maple syrup for their school every year. Math teacher Phil Young has intertwined the project with his mathematics curriculum, and students use iPads to support their work. By sugaring, students are engaging in the culture of their community in an authentic way. Today, I would like to share with you how these students have taken the project a step further. Not only have they learned how a sugaring operation works, they have shared that knowledge with local elementary students. This spring, The Edge invited two different classes of third graders out to the sugar house. The younger students engaged with sugaring and the math involved; the Edge students instructed them along the way, building their learning and community in the process. Continue reading

Sugaring, STEM, and community connections

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonEarly spring is sugaring season in Vermont. We produce the lion’s share of the domestic output of maple syrup, and we’re pretty proud of it. The process of tapping trees, collecting sap, and boiling it down has many connections to STEM education. The students and teachers of the Edge team at Essex Middle School built their own sugar house a few years ago, and now part of their curriculum is to make syrup while the sap flows. Math teacher Phil Young has integrated the process into his curriculum, and students use technology to support their work. Today, with Phil’s permission, I’d like to share some of those activities, and also consider how this is a different dimension to what it means to have connections to the community. Continue reading

From arduino learner to teacher

Student teaching STEM Academy arduino strand

student-guided stem learningMeet Ian. Ian’s a senior at Essex High School, and he’s not just enrolled in the STEM Academy there, he’s also teaching it.

In this episode of the podcast, research fellow Mark Olofson talks with Ian about how he went from learning about arduinos, to teaching them, and why robotics is so much more fun to build than talk about.

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Personalized STEM learning at Essex High School

New podcast episode: Essex STEM Academy

student-guided stem learningIn this episode, we talk with math educator and STEM Academy leader Lea Ann Smith about Essex High School’s STEM Academy and take a look inside a program that lets students pursue projects in medicine, engineering, computer science, mathematics or biology — by working with community partners during the school day.

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