creativespaceThis year Shepardson STEM elementary has added another facet to its approach to inquiry-based learning: Problem-Based-Learning. A team of primary, intermediate, and encore teachers attended a week of hands-on training with their partner school, STEM Launch in Denver to experience the concept first-hand. Now their efforts have circled back around to the classroom. Each grade level has identified a problem that pertains to their specific grade level standards and posed it to their students. Then each class spent six weeks investigating the problem, brainstorming solutions, and preparing to pitch their solutions to a panel of community experts with a stake in the solution. Here are the problems they’ve tackled this semester:

 school_logoKindergarten: learning to work together

First Grade: safety concerns in the drop-off/pick-up lanes

Second Grade: library design partnership

Third Grade: looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the drought we’ve been experiencing

Fourth Grade: reducing the amount of waste produced at Houska Garage/Dellenbach Chevrolet/Lee’s Cyclery

Fifth Grade: problems related to energy consumption at the CSU Mountain Campus

 Shepardson PBL/STEM Highlights:

Students had the opportunity to meet with experts as they gathered information to make intelligent decisions. For example, Second Graders got a virtual tour of the Council Tree Public Library to see features of the latest design and a visit to the Old Town Public Library in-person. They were able to ask questions to help them with their design ideas. The following week, the architects who had designed the library came to school and met with the students to explore the connection between imagination and design to create unique and welcoming spaces.

Problem based learning is providing relevance for what students are learning in school.

Why is it important to be able to communicate, to read, to solve problems, to collaborate?

An interview with Wayne Thornes, Assistant Principal, Shepardson STEM Elementary School

librarytour
AP Wayne Thornes

When students are working together to solve these authentic problems, engaged in working not just with their peers and teachers, but also with people throughout our community, they begin to make the connections between what they are learning and why that material is important to know.

PBL has provided a meaningful avenue for our wider community to become involved in our students’ education – not just as volunteers to support the teacher, but as experts sharing their own passions and knowledge with students.
We’ve just started PBL, but we’re already seeing the following benefits:
  • high levels of engagement from students
  • an increase in student confidence
  • higher levels of collaboration & cooperation
  • better communication skills
  • more real-life experiences for students/increased experiential learning
  • increased community engagement
It’s too soon to see this, but we’re hoping to see:
  • higher achievement
  • fewer disciplinary issues
  • fewer absences
One of our parents, after watching PBL happen (with kids that weren’t hers!) said: “I’ve been flying high knowing that our school is focused on problem based learning and that our six and seven-year-olds are seeking actionable solutions to real day-to-day puzzles. What better preparation can they have for growing up?”

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