Building Bridges through STEM and Project-Based Learning

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Building Bridges through STEM and Project-Based Learning

By Tori Smith | 1st Grade Teacher, River Bend Elementary School

As an Elementary School Teacher, my job is to build upon a child’s innate curiosity, to turn their love of exploring, questioning, and discovering into the foundation for their academic success. In our ever-changing world, my top priority is to equip first graders with the hard and soft skills they need to look at a problem and create solutions. I have found that a curriculum based in STEM is a great platform to do just that.

In an academic world, STEM is a curriculum approach that focuses on four primary areas – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Through active participation, students are able to create solutions that solve personally meaningful problems.

In my 1st grade classroom, STEM is the excitement of constructing towers with playdough, the fun of jumping to measure distance, and the creativity of repurposing shoeboxes to create animal habitats.

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WakeEd Partnership’s SummerSTEM program afforded me the unique opportunity to learn about the skills my students need to be successful in STEM careers, directly from STEM businesses! This skillset is vital because millions of STEM jobs remain unfilled each year.

For two years, my teammate and I engaged students in purposeful learning, where they had the opportunity to work alongside businesses through Project-Based Learning (PBL) and present their findings at WakeEd’s annual STEMposium.

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The end result? My students became more confident, demonstrated leadership, gained public speaking skills, increased their critical thinking, and learned the importance of collaborating with others.

The current atmosphere clearly highlights the crucial need for more problem solvers and critical thinkers in our communities. As learning moves from the classroom to the living room, it’s vital that educators create innovative ways to equip families with the tools necessary to aide in the success of their children.

Although many are using online platforms for remote learning, there are still those that lack the equipment, resources, and knowledge to navigate learning online. PBL can level the playing field so that all students, no matter their academic level or financial status, have the opportunity to learn. PBL at home has so many advantages:

  • It moves students away from computer screens. PBL dynamic learning, where students can build, create, manipulate, and experiment as they learn.
  • It empowers students. Students are actively involved in their learning, using their voice and choice to identify problems in their home or community.
  • It keeps families connected. The entire family can get involved in PBL! It’s a great opportunity to work together and create memories.
  • It builds and strengthens soft skills. Communication, problem solving, teamwork, and leadership are necessary parts of a successful PBL. As students and families identify and work through problems to create projects, they will need to develop these soft skills.

I believe that the advantages of PBL will become increasingly apparent as we move forward in redefining education. And this year, as I turn my focus from SummerSTEM ‘participant’ to ‘coach’, I look forward to sharing all the benefits of PBL and STEM with others.

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