PBL Research, Data

iLEAD PBL, STEAM Practitioner Advances Deeper Learning Through Research, Data And Outcomes

Advocates of deeper learning are aware of the academic and social-emotional advantages connected to project-based learning (PBL). Specifically, PBL educators have experienced major success in content areas that fall under S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Deeper Learning can be defined as not only mastery of content, but also the ability to make sense of that content through metacognitive practices, applied problem solving and skill development. Communicating the advances in educational outcomes associated with PBL and STEAM is an essential component in increased adoption of these instructionally.

A collective effort to understand the science behind deeper learning and increased educational outcomes is well underway. Researchers and practitioners have mobilized to conduct studies that seek to quantify the benefits and transformative nature of PBL. Edutopia’s New Research Makes A Powerful Case For PBL exemplifies how impactful and critical the use of academic research is when discussing PBL. At iLEAD Schools, this effort is being led by Maker – STEAM Project Specialist Shawna Brown.

Brown, who recently completed her Master’s Program in Education from National University, recently conducted research aimed at understanding the relationship between PBL and STEAM through a research question: “What is the impact of project-based learning on the academic performance of Next Generation Science Standards in STEAM?” 

Her professional and educational paths have synergistically inspired a personal passion for utilizing scientific research to increase learning outcomes for learners of all ages.

“Research is a critical indicator to demonstrate how and why PBL is effective,” said Brown. “When we discuss PBL, we collectively need to loop in the latest research, data and outcomes.”

Brown acknowledged the power of narrative and observation while emphasizing the importance of data and research. Through research, Brown has compiled powerful, long-term evidence to support the benefits of implementing a PBL model in STEAM-related content. One study within her literature review studied the academic progress of learners over 3 years.

“Long-term data is impactful. I developed my skills as a PBL practitioner in the classroom over the last several years at SCVi, iLEAD’s founding school, and continue to do so in my current role as a Maker with iLEAD,” said Brown. “Further awareness of current research has enhanced my understanding and provides even more confidence in PBL as an effective instructional approach.”

Brown asserts that we often focus on the holistic, transformative results seen in learners once they are introduced to PBL – and rightly so since we are seeing young people often transcending academic content. Not only are learners learning more, but they are enjoying the learning experience as well. However, Brown seeks to push beyond what we see and question why

“For example, we are confident that learners experience a higher level of rigor in their studies when participating in PBL,” she said.

Brown said this work centers around another question: How can we quantify the rigor of our PBL instruction and how is it impacting learning achievement? Questions like these have not only been pondered, but also now answered by educational researchers, according to Brown.

“It’s our job to have awareness around these topics and utilize similar matrices within our schools,” she said.

According to Brown, researchers have quantified the growth seen in learners’ confidence, curiosity and critical thinking after being introduced to PBL. She said that one of the most interesting takeaways from the research has been that learners experience a compounding benefit from PBL over time. This can specifically be traced in the upper grades after learners are introduced to the PBL model in lower grades, said Brown. 

“In lower grades, learners are being introduced to content, but more importantly to the learning skills,” she said. “By the time they are in upper grades – which are content-specific and specialized – they have the skills and confidence to create impactful solutions to real-world problems.”

Another finding was the outlook and positivity towards STEAM-based courses when implementing PBL. Brown noted that there is often a lack of learner interest in STEAM courses –sometimes even an adverse outlook towards STEAM and the idea that they are less accessible. This mindset not only impacts our educational system, but also our workforce. 

“Our world and globalized economy need solution-oriented individuals that can work together to solve challenges using STEAM,” she said. “So, a simple perception change drastically impacts the motivation and inspiration to engage in the hard work of learning.”

Brown said that all stakeholders can benefit from the research whether they are seasoned PBL advocates or those that have reservations. This includes learners as well, according to Brown.

“Scholarly research can and should also be utilized as a tool to show the learners the why behind PBL,” said Brown. “This is about how critical thinking, communication, problem-solving skills and mindsets will benefit them throughout their lives.”

Ultimately, Brown sees this research endeavor as placing all learners at the center of their education by demonstrating that PBL is the most equitable way of learning.

“There is no one size fits all to learning,” she said. “PBL is an approach to education that meets the needs of every learner.”

Brown plans to continue advocating for PBL and STEAM even at the policy level by utilizing the increasing amount of research and data. 

“I’m very thankful to work for an organization grounded in PBL and one that values educators continuing their educational journey,” she said. “This ultimately serves the organization, the field of education and most importantly our learners. We’re not just talking the talk, but really walking the walk.”


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