Project Based Learning...STEM Style

Project Based Learning...STEM Style
Posted on 02/15/2017

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a Crime Scene Investigator or a Travel Agent?  How about a Wind Farmer, Climatologist or Engineer?  Through Project Based Learning (PBL), eighth grade students at Spencer Middle School were able to become experts about one of the six Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based professions of their choice and present their findings to their peers and parents during conferences.

This is the second year that the eighth-grade team has launched PBL, and the experience exposed the students to content about which they might not have learned.  It also gave the students the opportunity to actively explore real-world challenges and problems.   Students selected one of six STEM jobs and worked as individuals to complete their projects.  The projects were vastly different, including hands-on demonstrations, written papers and presentations using different computer programs.   Through the process, eighth-grade teacher, Becky Koenig, said, “We learned with the students that this can be a difficult thing to process because it isn’t typical school.  It is kind of pushing the boundaries with both the students and the teachers.” 

The students seemed up to the challenge as they presented their projects to their peers.  Ethan Heiter was one of four students to create a model of a wind turbine.  The project required students to first research the actual size of a commercial wind turbine. After identifying the dimensions of the component parts, they had to determine an appropriate ratio for the model they would construct. Using the identified ratio, students then had to sketch a prototype which served as the blueprint in their effort to build an accurate model.  The students were challenged to create a stable, efficient turbine given the wind patterns of a particular location. They were fully responsible to come up with all of the materials used, and they were asked to include items they could find had around their house.  When asked about the experience, Heiter said it was difficult because the measurements had to be exact, otherwise the parts wouldn’t work accurately.  He added, “I liked the experience because it got us out of our core classes and gave us an opportunity to learn about something we don’t normally learn about.”  Heiter used pvc pipe, aluminum (which he cut using a plasma cutter), a peanut butter jar lid, and wood to make the blades, among other supplies. 

To help recreate a crime scene, Makenna Richter made a model out of Legos using lots of measurements and scaling.  Richter, with the help of her friends, brainstormed a very creative murder scenario which occurred in her classroom, and using exact measurements, built a scaled model of the classroom out of Legos to show what happened.  “I loved doing the project.  I have been obsessed with Legos most of my life, and it was fun to use them to recreate something.  I like engineering so I liked building something rather than just going through the presentation. It was something different,” said Richter.

Becoming a sunglasses manufacturer was what piqued Alex Moore’s interest.  Moore built a pair of sunglasses using insulation.  For the lenses, he cut out hard, clear plastic from a container he found at home, and he covered the plastic with window tint to make the lenses.  He finished the sunglasses off by buying a strap from Hobby Lobby.  When asked what he learned, Moore said, “I learned that it is pretty hard to make sunglasses.  I enjoyed building the model and learning the facts about it the most. “

Students will be able to take the skills that they learned from this project and apply them to a small group project that will be launched later this spring.  A Civil Rights Museum will be created, and language arts and social studies will be the emphasis.   Students will work in small groups to complete the project, and collaboration will be a big part of their grade, as well as creativity and research skills.