As the school year comes to an end so too do the school-based projects I evaluate. What this means, first and foremost, is a mad rush to collect data. It’s also a time for those involved in the project to come together and share what they’ve been doing for the past 8 months. As an evaluator, I have been focused on the mad rush of data collection – writing surveys, distributing surveys, leading focus groups, and conducting site observations. All of this data is needed to prove these projects are doing great things; however, what I truly love is hearing about the activities educators are using to engage their students in STE(A)M.
As an evaluator I have to ask: how do you capture the amazing ideas these educators are coming up with and how do you evaluate the impact they’re having? And by impact I mean both the impact on students and the impact on other educators who are hearing what’s been done in other educational settings. What I’m actually asking is how do you evaluate jaw-dropping moments?
To put these questions into some context I need to clarify that I am, from here on, talking about my experience as one of the evaluators with the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Education Center . The STEM Center is a collaboration between Lincoln County School District, Tillamook County School District, and countless institutions and organizations up and down the Oregon Coast. A U.S. Department of Education Math Science Partnership grant funds the STEM Center, which offers professional development to teachers in both school districts. Over the course of the school year the teachers put Project-Based Learning (PBL) into practice.
Now to turn back to the questions I asked above. How do you capture the amazing ideas these educators are coming up with? We do collect and archive as much as we can, specifically PBL overviews, PowerPoints, assessments, and other resources teachers and students use during PBL and include them all on the website for others to use. 2013-2014 school year PBLs should be up this summer but you can peruse 2012-2013 PBLs here.
Sean Bedell shows his colleagues a core sample he and his students took while looking for evidence of Oregon’s 1700 tsunami (project further discussed below).
How do you evaluate the impact these projects have? This question is more difficult to answer. For students, we distribute a STEM interest survey at the beginning and end of the school year and we use student test scores, but to me that can’t tell the whole story. The hard pill to swallow as an evaluator is that in order to capture what I would call the true impact on students and the whole story, this project would require longitudinal study (think 5 or 10+ years of collecting data and interviewing students). We also have teachers complete pre- and post-project surveys and have them write a reflection and those sources have proven to be useful in past projects to understand impact. We talked about running a focus group with the 2013-2014 STEM Center teachers to gauge how they incorporate all of the information delivered through professional development to plan and implement their PBLs. Anecdotal evidence shows that teachers are no longer taking a kit or pre-written lessons and using it as is in the classroom; instead, they are taking ideas from multiple sources and piecing together large scale projects. Essentially, their self-efficacy to do PBL and STE(A)M in the classroom is rising.
Most of the teachers presented their 2013-2014 PBL to their colleagues last Saturday. I was in the audience with my jaw on the floor for most of the day. I really appreciated the variety of presentations, which included posters, ignite presentations (i.e. short, sweet, and fast), and student voice-over presentations. In the afternoon some students came and presented PBLs from their perspective. I can’t cover all of the projects here and encourage any readers to keep checking the website as we add the 2013-2014 PBLs. Here’s a selection of projects that caught my attention:
– Students at Newport Prep Academy studied marbled murrelets and corvids, specifically how the latter prey on the former’s eggs. Human interference (i.e. leaving trash at picnic sites) brings corvids closer to marbled murrelets. Check out the Public Service Announcements produced by the students using iPads and iMovie. QR codes the students created will soon be at picnic areas of state and national parks.
– Students at Eddyville Charter School focused on tsunamis. They designed, built, and tested their own tsunami structure at Hinsdale Wave Research Lab. Students also researched the earthquake and tsunami that hit Oregon in 1700 by taking core samples at five different locations to look for tsunami evidence. Check out their website, which contains videos and student wikis about the project.
– At another school, students had to engineer a closed forest ecosystem to gain an understanding on how we could sustain life on another planet. This was definitely a test-retest project as students had to monitor pH and water levels to keep plants alive. Many students had to re-engineer their plans and use different materials to meet the challenge.
Examples of student-designed forest ecosystems.
– In Tillamook, elementary students were given a challenge by the local utility company, which was really a fake letter written by the teacher with the company’s approval. Students had to evaluate different sources of renewable energy and where such sources could be placed within the landscape to be most efficient. At the end of the PBL, students presented their findings to an expert panel.
See? Jaw on the ground! And this is just a sample of what these amazing teachers in Lincoln and Tillamook County School Districts are working on with their students!