STEM is the acronym which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is a way of teaching/learning that connects these once-separate pillars of knowledge. Just think of the last time you went to the grocery store. You might have compared prices of laundry soap. You might have compared price per number of loads. Is this brand cheaper? Is this container cheaper because it's larger? You were using Math while reading the labels (functional text). You might have used coupons on your smartphone at checkout. Our lives are integrated and STEM allows teachers to use that integration to go deeper and provide a real-world context behind their lessons.
PBL is the acronym which stands for Problem-Based Learning. Problem-Based Learning is the concept of presenting a problem (or project) to the students and supporting them in solving it. (Much has been written lately comparing Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, etc. For the purposes of this post, we will use Problem-Based Learning) Look at the graphic below. PBL differs from "doing projects" in that the students have much more control. They control the direction of their own learning. Learning then comes from an intrinsic motivation rather than an extrinsic one; a letter grade. Expect to see more PBL and STEM in classrooms this year as more and more schools adopt the Common Core State Standards. Common Core is the what. STEM PBL is the how.
Use Technology to Set the Stage
Why not use Fourth of July Safety as a STEM PBL lesson this week? You can talk to your children about fireworks safety. There are myriad videos online that teach firework safety. A quick YouTube search will yield many, like this one:
Use that as a starting point for your children. Remember that PBL starts with a question. "What can we do to make the Fourth of July safer?" "What seems to be the most important thing to you?" Let them drive the project. If your child is new to PBL, they might not know how to proceed. You can facilitate by showing videos of the science behind fireworks (or whatever they want to work on).
Science of Fireworks
Engineer Your Design
After watching, pose more questions. "Which would work best; handles or gloves?" Again, let them lead the way. As they start to engineer their designs, they will need access to materials. Don't rush out to the store just yet. Chances are you might have all the materials already, in the garage, in a storage shed, in the kitchen! One of the great things about STEM is repurposing old materials into new uses.
Test Your Design
When your child is ready to test their designs, please exercise caution. I mean, that's what this whole project is about in the first place! Always have an adult present, abide by local laws (fire restrictions, etc.), and use gloves and eye gear.