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Remember the days of listening to professors’ babble on about foundations in education, theories and practices?  Having spent time in the classroom, I now know what they were talking about.

Constructionism is basically the formulation of mental models and the process of its transference into a tangible product. Within a STEM class, engineering is already at the heart of the matter, so the theory drives itself. Thus, the problem in today’s classrooms is rooted in a great many things happening simultaneously that are almost impossible to measure. So, how can one teach, utilise research to support teaching, assess each student, differentiate lessons for each student, maintain safety, create inviting classroom environments, promote authentic learning, hold students’ interest, and still breathe? It seems impossible but allows me to share my experiences.

In my project-based learning class, I have developed a solid base that encompasses them all. All the projects are different, students can decide on some of the assignments that they want to complete and can submit them when they feel that they have shown mastery. Additionally, students can bring their own device to conduct research, and even listen to music as they work. Students are always expected to show responsibility and autonomy. Still a work in progress, students adhere to a daily lesson plan, guided by choice.

 Student Daily Lesson Plan

Entry: Students collect their STEM journals and notebooks from their cubbies. In their journals, they write the date and topic of the project that they choose to work on for the day. They also write their starter. The starter describes what the student intends to accomplish for the day.

Indicating a Topic: Each student created a picture frame out of cardboard. It has their name and picture on it with a magnet attached to the back. After the students choose a topic for the day, they move their magnets to that section of the whiteboard to indicate where they are working. If I want to know what they are working on, I just look for their magnets on the board, instead of having to ask each individual student.

Building skills: All the projects build different STEM skills and 21st century skills that pupils will need to succeed in future careers such as: researching, measuring, constructing, writing, debating, inquiring, interpreting data, engineering design process, and investigating scientifically, etc.

Engagement: In their notebooks, students locate their project information and use the questions to help them research the information expected to be learned from the topic. They can choose any topic that they want to work on. The topics can change daily, if students wish. Students are expected to make subject, project, job, and world connections, from the projects. Assignments are completed in small groups, whole group or individually. On any given day, you can observe students building, researching, writing, handling equipment, and collaborating. I serve merely as a facilitator! I provide feedback and clarify questions and answers during the class.

Assessments: Throughout the class, students can engage in a five-minute uninterrupted private conference with me. Also, the students can pose questions to me or their classmates for support. In every project, there’s a formative, summative, culminating and performance task. Each project is turned in and assessed according to check-points, dates that are set to submit projects. Students must learn to manage their time.

Exits: Five minutes before the end of the class, I let the students know to stop working, to clean their areas, and to write their exits. In their STEM journals, students utilize the same page as their starter, to record their daily activities. Specifically, the students write what they accomplished for the day.  

There are many aspects to my project-based learning class that has proven effective and others that are still developing.

By: Jacquelyn Banks

I am Jacquelyn Banks and the elementary STEM Leader at Manor Hall International School in Al Ain, UAE. I have taught for ten years in grade levels 1st-7th in USA and the UAE. I am a certified teacher with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in STEM Leadership.