STEM Learners 1.2
1.2 - Students work independently and collaboratively in an inquiry-based learning environment that encourages finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems.
At Barbara Morgan STEM Academy learning experiences are focused on real-world, complex and relevant problems. Students engage in inquiry and investigation to collaboratively solve these problems. Learning experiences focus on the application of acquired knowledge and skills, rather than just content. We achieve this through Project Based Learning, Inquiry Learning and Integrated Instruction.
Project based learning (PBL) requires students to identify a real-world question or problem and pool from a wide range of knowledge and skills to find a solution. Learning is relevant and hands on. Students often find multiple ways to independently and collaboratively solve these problems which often involve the engineering design process. Creative, original thinking is encouraged. One example of a PBL is 5th graders researching, designing and engineering water filters to help communities in developing countries. Other examples are 3rd grade students applying their knowledge of force and motion to design an amusement park feature, and 2nd graders designing a piece of sports equipment that would enable a Paralympian to participate in an Olympic sport.
An essential piece of the PBL process is inquiry, which is an approach that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity to further learning. We use a process called the W.I.S.E. Way that teaches students to “Wonder” about the world around them, “Investigate” answers to their questions, “Share” their learning with others and “Extend” their learning by applying it.
Students are intentionally taught to collaborate in a way that is thoughtful, safe and caring. We understand this is an important life skill, and it is one most students need to practice. Students are taught how to build on the ideas of others, how to listen before speaking and how to respectfully disagree. This collaboration is essential in the problem solving process, whether students are working to collaboratively or independently solve problems.
Independent and Collaborative Learners at Barbara Morgan STEM Academy
Independent and Collaborative Problem Solving
Grade level teams collaborate to develop common PBL plans for their students using our common planning documents. All PBL plans incorporate the standards from across the various disciplines that students in a grade level need to understand. PBL plans are centered around learners attempting to answer an essential question in their final project. Students have opportunities to work both independently and collaboratively throughout this process.
Real World and Complex Problems
Each PBL centers around an essential question which students will seek to answer at the end of their shared learning. Each of these problems focuses on a relevant, real world problem with multiple solutions. Learning is hands-on and, when possible, pertinent to local issues. Examples of real world PBLs include kindergartners selecting animals to design zoo habitats that would meet the needs of their animal within a zoo setting. First Graders engineer playground structures to provide protection from harmful UV rays. Second graders learn about owls that are native to Idaho and create a model habit that would meet all of this animal's needs. Third graders develop amusement park games and prototypes for rides to demonstrate their understanding of force, motion and magnetism. Fourth graders engineer prosthetic limbs and other tools to help overcome different types of sensory loss. Fifth graders learn the components of a river ecosystem, then design a means of eliminating the trash that threatens the health of the fiver using only recycled materials. This helps students understand the challenges engineers face as they try to minimize the amount of raw materials used in their world. A final example is our school garden, where students of all ages work as a community along with volunteers and family members. Younger students use this as a platform to learn about the needs of living things, while older students do soil testing and research on the plants best suited to grow in our garden. Community partnerships with local businesses such as Home Depot are drawn upon to help students see real world connections.
Inquiry and Creative Thinking
At BMSA, students explore problems they encounter through inquiry. We use a process called the WISE way to guide us in wondering about problems and their causes and solutions. We then investigate using an inquiry based process. Through inquiry, our students often experience failure. We purposefully create a climate where failure is encouraged to be viewed as a positive learning experience. Students are guided through inquiry to wonder about changes they can implement to create a different outcome. Solutions to problems are then shared through collaboration with other students.
Students are intentionally taught to collaborate in a way that is thoughtful, safe and caring. We understand this is an important life skill, and it is one most students need to practice. Students are taught how to build on the ideas of others, how to listen before speaking and how to respectfully disagree. This collaboration is essential is the problem solving process, whether students are working to collaboratively or independently solve problems. This collaboration often extends across grade levels as students from one grade level work with students in another grade level.