School partnerships enable project-based learning

Here at NIU STEAM, we love PBL! That can stand for project-based learning or problem-based learning, but what it really boils down to, according to NIU STEAM Director Kristin Brynteson, is “students working together to address a driving question that has connections to the real world and an authentic audience. For example, in one school last year, we led a project-based learning unit where students chose to address how to improve the lunch program at their school – a burning question for fourth and fifth graders! The students researched federal government policy on nutrition, created a school garden and conducted surveys. In project-based learning, the students are not just handed information. They’re discovering information, so they tend to build a deeper understanding.”

We use project-based learning in our camps and STEAM Studio sessions, we teach it in our educator professional development. We believe that – when implemented effectively – PBL is a great way to engage students in the classroom and help them build knowledge and confidence.

A few years ago, we had a chance to start a partnership with Leland School thanks to the generosity of NIU alumna Jan Half. Our STEAM educators taught an afterschool program at Leland, we provided a community STEM fair, and we also did five months of professional development with the Leland educators so they could bring PBL into their classrooms.