By now you’ve at least heard of project-based learning (PBL), maybe read a success story or two about how effective it is, completed professional development around it, or observed a colleague implementing it in his or her classroom. You might even have facilitated projects with your own students that involved tackling a “real-world” problem and presenting solutions—perhaps creating a new technology or designing an actual product.
Regardless of your level of exposure to PBL, you might be wondering—beyond Does it actually work?—How do I as an educator, who is committed to not just teaching but to preparing my students to continue their educations and enter the 21st-century global STEM workforce, implement PBL in my classroom that is practical and relevant? That exposes my students to the challenges they’re likely to face in their future careers? That gives them the knowledge and skills they’ll need to tackle these challenges? That bridges the gap between what they’re learning in the classroom and what’s happening in real life by incorporating actual problems and problem-solving methods used in industry?
Because isn’t that the point?
The good news is, PBL does work when implemented correctly and there is a way for you to design and implement PBL that directly connects you and your classroom to a real-life industry problem, as well as enables you to facilitate student-directed projects and presentations that offer possible solutions. In Project-based Learning through Teacher Externships, you’ll engage in targeted professional development exploring PBL, participate in an externship at a STEM-related business where you’ll learn about an actual problem the company or industry is facing, and receive mentoring from a STEM professional as you guide your students through a project around solving the problem.
Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered teaching methodology that combines transdisciplinary classroom education with real-world problems for which students must develop solutions. Studies confirm various positive results of PBL, including: improved content learning, higher levels of student engagement, a more positive view of learning, heightened interest in content, development of problem solving strategies, and increased ability to transfer skills to new situations. In addition to anecdotal evidence of improved student outcomes in teaching 21st-century skills, research has shown that PBL can produce statistically significant gains in social studies and informational reading in high-poverty communities.
For students to fully benefit from PBL in the classroom, especially when it comes to acquiring 21st-century skills, educators must develop the knowledge and skills needed to effectively facilitate PBL—and discover the competencies required to address real-world issues and problems. Teachers must have knowledge, not only of the basic elements of PBL but also of best practices for its implementation. Again, research has shown that extensive professional development leads to more effective implementation of PBL in the classroom, which in turn leads to students’ being able to engage in real-world, authentic problems and develop skills for becoming productive citizens in a knowledge-based, highly technical society.
Despite that over the last decade employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations (24.4 percent versus 4.0 percent, respectively), and STEM occupations are projected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014 to 2024 (compared to 6.4 percent growth for non-STEM occupations), many companies are struggling to find enough highly qualified candidates to fill these positions.
Lacking even in foundational proficiency, too few students are developing interest in—and ultimately pursuing—STEM majors and careers. There is a tremendous opportunity for employers to address this problem by making classroom educators more aware of STEM jobs as well as the 21st-century knowledge and skills required in these occupations. But how do we bridge the gap between the classroom and the boardroom?
We take the educators to the employers.
When used in tandem with professional development, teacher externships can lead to improvement in and increased use of STEM teaching techniques, like project-based learning (PBL). Externships provide teachers not only with a fresh perspective on industry but also with firsthand exposure the modern workforce and how it is using 21st-century skills to solve technological challenges.
With this firsthand exposure, teachers can then design and implement relevant and practical PBL that improves student learning outcomes and better prepares students to compete for and perform in STEM jobs. Externships also can help teachers to grow their general knowledge of an industry and transfer that knowledge back to the classroom. Finally, businesses benefit from hosting teacher externships in the form of building partnerships with local schools and the community to impact and improve learning, which will in turn better prepare the future STEM workforce.