This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Students work in Columbus College of Art & Desig's College PreView program
Both project-based learning and STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art and math) are growing rapidly in our schools. Some schools are doing STEAM, some are doing PBL, and some are leveraging the strengths of both to do STEAM PBL. With a push for deeper learning, teaching and assessment of 21st-century skills, both PBL and STEAM help schools target rigorous learning and problem solving. They are not exactly the same, but teachers can easily connect to them to teach not only STEAM content and design challenges, but also authentic learning and public, high-quality work. In fact, many know that STEAM education isn’t just the content, but the process of being scientists, mathematicians, engineers, artists and technological entrepreneurs. Here are some ways that PBL and STEAM can complement each other as you deliver instruction.

From Design Challenges to Authentic Problems
Many of us have experienced, either as a teacher or student, the bridge design challenge. It often unfolds in this way. Students are given the challenge to make a bridge out of materials that will hold the most weight. These materials might be marshmallows, glue, toothpicks and the like. Students are given multiple opportunities to try out ideas and refine their work. It might culminate in a public content or presentation day when the bridges are tested for the last time. This is a fun and engaging design challenge that encourages the freedom to fail as well as opportunities for revision, reflection and using critical thinking skills.

PBL can take this design challenge up a notch. Instead of just designing a “fake” bridge, students might actually make recommendations to real architects and engineers for local bridges that need repairs. Some further math or physics content might be intentionally included and scaffolded so that students end up writing a rigorous design briefing and make a public presentation to the architects. Here the work can be more authentic and perhaps make a real difference as students truly become designers of real-world STEAM work.

21st Century Skills
One of the essential elements of PBL is the 21st century skillset. These skills are often defined as the 4Cs — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication — although there are many more, including technology literacy and health literacy. In a PBL project, teachers teach and assess one or more of these skills. This might mean using an effective rubric for formative and summative assessment aligned to collaboration, collecting evidence, facilitating reflection, and scaffolding many quality indicators and collaboration skills within the PBL project. Although STEAM design challenges foster this naturally as an organic process, PBL can add the intentionality needed to teach and assess the 21st century skills embedded in STEAM.

For example, a teacher might choose to target technology literacy for a PBL STEAM project, build a rubric in collaboration with students, and assess both formatively and summatively. In addition, the design process, a key component of STEAM education, can be utilized. Perhaps a teacher has a design process rubric used in the PBL project, or even an empathy rubric that leverages and targets one key component of the design process. When “marrying” PBL and STEAM in projects, the 21st century skills not only fit well, but fit intentionally into the assessment process.

Integrated Disciplines
Project-based learning can target one or more content areas. Many PBL teachers start small in their first implementations and only pick a couple of content areas to target. However, as teachers and students become more PBL-savvy, STEAM can be great opportunity to create a project that hits science, math, technology and even art content. The key is to start with the content. When teachers design projects, they need to leverage the backwards design framework and begin with the end in mind. The questions should be:

What STEAM content will be assessed?
What products will students create to demonstrate mastery of these many content standards?

As STEAM focuses on integration of content, pairing STEAM with PBL can hit not only STEAM content, but also content outside of the core STEAM subjects. English can be integrated, as well as foreign languages and social studies. It’s all about designing effective PBL that targets these content areas.

As STEAM and PBL continue to grow in implementation, teachers can fit them together in curriculum and instructional practice. Additionally, these two approaches can capitalize on each other’s strengths and fill each other’s potential gaps. The key is an intentionality in design that recognizes what might be missing from each approach. Engage in your own design challenge to create STEAM PBL projects, and share your work with like-minded practitioners.

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p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >


Driving Question: How Can We Assess Creativity in the Classroom?

Explicitly and effectively assessing creativity is one of my passions. I was lucky. My parents put me into many arts programs, music programs and the like to build my creativity. Later it would become an area of study as I practiced vocal jazz, and sung in my musicals and chorale groups. In fact, it was that work I can strongly attribute to my current creative abilities which I have been able to transfer into “non-arts” subject matter and ideas.

Indeed, we know creativity is not limited to the arts, but that also means we need to provide instructional opportunities for students to be creative in all subject areas, be assessed on creativity, and improve.

Let’s be clear, we are using the word “assess” here. Assessment does not “equal” grading. Those are two different things, although the can complement and build upon each other.

Some schools do put in a creativity grade, while others may feel uncomfortable doing so. Regardless, students need to know where they are at in terms of the creativity in order to set goals and improve. Assessment does this with or without grades.

Unpacking Creativity

The first step to assessing creativity it to know what it is. Despite popular belief, it is not a nebulous concept. Creativity, in fact, has quality indicators to it that help us to understand what it looks like and how we build our creative skills. Rubrics exist that articulate these quality indicators, such as the Buck Institute for Education’s Creativity rubrics for elementary and secondary grades.

In a rubric published in the Ed Leadership article “Assessing Creativity,” Sue Brookhart describes the category of very creative with the description “Ideas represent a startling variety of important concepts from different contexts or disciplines” as well as “Created product draws on a wide variety of sources, including different texts, media, resource persons, or personal experiences.” In BIE’s K-2 Creativity rubric, two quality indicators are “I can help pick the best idea” and “I can think of ideas for what to make or do in the project.” These are some samples of helping students understand what creativity looks like, and gives them quality indicators. We need to unpack creativity in this way because students may or may not know what it is, let alone how to get better. Simply saying, “Be creative,” will not give students the specific goals to work toward.

Creativity with Content

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Students must have some “thing” with which to be creative. For example they can be creative with World Religions content knowledge or solve linear equations in a creative way. In addition, tying creative thinking to an important concept or idea provides a great opportunity to assess more content-based standards along with creativity; giving them both equal footing in the assessment plan.

When teachers design a unit or project, they begin with the end in mind, target specific content skills and objectives that they want students to learn. From there, they consider how students can be creative with that content. What context will they give students that demands they be creative with the content? What voice and choice will theygives students in products students will create?

Consider this example. A teacher might design a unit where she wants students to learn about world religions, as well as speaking and listening skills. From there, the teacher might come up with the context about discrimination that occurs with world religions and tasks student with uncovering and solving this issue of stereotypes and discrimination. Next, the teacher might provide voice and choice to students in the products they create as well as the audience they intend to target. While the learning of content and skills is focused, the space and demand for creativity is there as well.

Formative and Summative Assessment

Teachers can assess creativity in a final product or in summative assessments. If the unit or project calls for a creative product, a criteria for evaluation might be creativity in addition to the content skills and knowledge students have to demonstrate. However, if teachers intend to summatively assess creativity, but they must formatively assess in order to scaffold appropriately and to have students build their creative thinking skills.

Paired with a good rubric, they can formatively assess one or many quality indicators of creativity. Students can set goals and reflect upon these creative goals. As the final product calls for creativity, journals, reflections and even oral individuals can be used to check for creative indictors. These formative assessments can be used as self, peer and teacher assessments to improve creative skills. It further fosters that creativity is a process. For a quality final product that shows creativity, the creative process must be valued through formative assessment.

Assessing creativity must be intentional when teachers plan instruction. If we want our students to be creative, then we must assess it. It we want creativity to be valued as much as content, then it is must be assessed just like content. The good news is that it can be done, and we have the tools to do it!

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This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I am of course a huge project-based learning (PBL) nerd and advocate. I am also an advocate for the flipped classroom, yet at the same time I also have my concerns about flipping a classroom. This model still hinges upon great teachers, and engaging curriculum and instruction. So why not combine PBL and the flipped classroom? It can be an excellent match when you consider some of the following tips. Even Salman Khan believes that the flipped classroom can create the space for PBL.

1. Short Content Videos
The key piece here is short. Kids do not want to be watching hours of content. However, short five- to ten-minute videos could be used to replace lectures in the classroom and free up space for more PBL time. These videos might be introductions to learning the content, or possibly content review. Students who enjoy the flipped classroom often comment that their favorite part is being able to watch videos over and over again as needed. Find or create these videos, and make sure to align them to the significant content you intend to teach and assess in your PBL project.

2. Collaborative Virtual Work
I love it when students assign their own homework. Many times in a PBL project, the team might not quite finish all they want to do in class, and some of this work relies on collaboration. There are many digital tools out there that allow for collaboration, and this could be your chance to “flip the collaboration,” whether it’s joint research and documentation, or even reflection as a group. This virtual work can also be great documentation for assessing collaboration as one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century learning aspect of a PBL project.

3. Virtual Labs and Games
Flipping isn’t just videos, because — let’s be honest — videos can get boring after a while. As you go through the PBL process with students, use other types of virtual activities as both components to learn content and a means of formative assessment. For example, if students need to learn about parts of the body, use an interactive digital lab for them to do a dissection. Or, if students are learning about some math component, have them play a math game outside of the brick-and-mortar setting that still allows you, as the teacher, to check on how they’re doing.

4. Product Production
If you are concerned with students taking an excessive amount of time in actually constructing the PBL product, give a technology choice or choices as an element of the final product. These products can be produced and edited in the cloud, where individual students and teams can have access to them 24/7. You can ask students for these links and give them your feedback to help improve their work.

5. Consider Tech Equity
Not all of our students have access the technology. Some of us are lucky enough to have 1:1 classrooms, but not all. Because of that, you need to truly consider equity as a core issue if you intend to flip your PBL classroom. It’s difficult for students to collaborate digitally, for example, if some have access to the technology while others do not. In cases like this, consider your flipped components as optional for those students able to use them.

PBL and the flipped classroom model can play well together. In fact, PBL can make it better when students are engaged in authentic work and given voice and choice in how and what they want and need to learn. What are some of the ways you’ve used both the flipped classroom and PBL? How do you see them complementing each other?

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