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Project Based Learning Powered by STEAM

Updated: Jun 13, 2018

New Hampshire Schools are making pretty exciting leaps in educational pedagogy. Worksheets and rote memorization are going by the wayside and teachers are embracing project-based learning in all subjects. Edutopia describes PBL as, "A dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge." This will take intentional planning time and professional development to make the switch, but we see it happening across the state.

Countless research confirms that students (and adults as life long learners), understand content more deeply if we get dirty and do a hands-on project. How many of us have fond memories of reading textbooks and copying endless notes? Probably not. When I talk with people about what they remember from their K-12 learning, the conversation usually includes interactive projects that combined different skill sets. The shift toward more Project Based Learning will allow for deeper connections to content through hands-on learning and real-world application of knowledge.

Jeff Dieffenback, Associate Director of the MITili (MIT Integrated Learning Initiative) calls for more cross-disciplinary project based education.

"Everything in life is a project. Figuring out your taxes, going on vacation, or taking care of something at work. The core skills are creative thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, the 21st Century Skills. Those are the things I would make at the core of my educational experience. It's going to mean a shift. We have math teachers and science teachers and we need to do away with that and have more cross-disciplinary work where we are bringing in the knowledge and skills of different disciplines as it's relevant for the project, and that way students see that it's relevant. "

The Arts are no stranger to Project Based Learning. Take Concord High School's production of Nora's Lost. Students were immersed in learning the theatre competencies of character development, stage and lighting design, and acting, but they were also doing research and developing community connections. Students conducted interviews on how dementia and Alzheimers affect caregivers and families. They deepened their knowledge by performing the play at an assisted living home for residents and invited a panel of experienced caregivers from Concord Hospital to speak after a performance for the school.

Now imagine if these students read a passage about dementia from a textbook? Which approach creates deeper learning?

There has also been a big push for project based learning through the success of Makerspaces, robotics programs, and STEM education. These programs give opportunities for students to practice and develop their 21st Century Skills of Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking. The same skills developed through Arts. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have called for more integration between STEM and the Arts and Humanities; or as we like to call it, moving from STEM to STEAM

"The report recognizes the great value of the individual disciplines and does not argue that integrative models should necessarily supplant discipline-based courses or programs. Rather, it stresses the value of integrative approaches in an increasingly complex world. “Given that today’s challenges and opportunities are at once technical and human, responding to them calls for the full range of human knowledge and creativity”

In 2016 The NH Governor's Commission on STEM education also confirmed that the "Arts are an important and vital part of a strong STEM education. The intersection of the liberal arts with technology and STEM education is critical to the innovation economy."

The goal of project based learning is to immerse students in real-world learning opportunities that allow them to apply skills from multiple disciplines. It embraces a holistic approach to teaching where subjects are not isolated, but rather come together and applied in context.


Julianne Gadoury is the Arts Education Coordinator at the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts


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