Another way to strengthen rigor in the classroom is through the use of PBL (Project Based Learning) elements. PBL and STEM have a great deal in common and many believe that PBL is one of STEM’s predecessors.
Although PBL lacks some elements of STEM, it has a similar goal- to teach the whole student and to focus on life skills like the 4C’s (communication, collaboration, creativity, creative thinking).
Making sure that these PBL elements are included in your STEM lessons and units will help to maintain rigor and keep students performing on a higher level and applying their knowledge.
An Essential Question
In STEM units, our essential question is focused on a real life problem or issue that needs to be solved. Constructing this question carefully is paramount as it will guide the student’s learning. A well-defined question will be tight enough to identify a relevant problem to be solved but loose enough to allow students to explore and find their own solutions.
The essential questions in our STEM units usually provide some design requirements, but for the most part allow the students to use inquiry, innovation and the 4C’s to research and construct a viable solution to the problem. Enough guidance is provided to lightly steer students, but students are expected and encouraged to drive their own learning.
21st century skills
STEM units stress 21st century skills and aim to groom students to mastering the 4C’s. In addition to content mastery and knowledge application of science, technology, engineering, and math, students polish additional skills like team building and brainstorming.
Inquiry is probably the most difficult element to teach. Too much guidance and all students are coming up with the same solution. Too little guidance and students are lost. When students conduct inquiry, they are, essentially, playing the part of the detective and following the trail of where their research leads them. It is the part of the skilled teacher (facilitator) to help guide students in their problem solving so that they don’t get too far off track.
By incorporating or ensuring that these components are present in your STEM units, both you and your students can work toward building and maintaining rigor in the classroom.