The STEM and PBL approach to learning at TLC

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Acronyms abound in 21st century life and are especially true in education. STEM and PBL are two prime examples.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and PBL stands for project based learning. Students at The Learning Center charter school are very familiar with each.

A targeted STEM education approach ensures students engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics regularly. PBL  is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, complex question, problem, or challenge.

Learning Center charter school students engage in STEM and PBL education daily.

For example, students in sixth grade have been recently learning about pollinators and their essential role in agriculture. Animal pollinators, especially bees, are critical for producing more than one-third of U.S. food products. In addition to bees, other pollinators, including butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, wasps, birds, and bats are necessary for pollinating more than 80% of plants in nature. The class has spent time learning this via lessons and special presentations from USDA guests but science teacher, Jessie Karageanes, amped the learning up by being sure to inject STEM into the lessons. The students have gone on to design and build 3D models of pollinators based on what traits an efficient pollinator needs to thrive. “Students learned the science related to pollination,” said Karageanes, “but designing and building actual 3D models of their fictional pollinators made the lessons really sink in. Plus, the valuable skills of designing, building, trouble shooting and redesigning are practical skills for everyday life.”

Science students in eighth grade, also taught by Karageanes, have been immersed in a project based learning (PBL) scenario where they are trying to determine what a mystery disease is and how to handle it from a community perspective. Students are taking on the roles of county health officials by diagnosing the disease, creating an action plan to stop the spread of the outbreak, and educating the public on disease transmission.  This mystery disease scenario is allowing these students to not only learn the science of disease but also a community response to manage it. Karageanes says, “The level of engagement these students have to this scenario is impressive.”

STEM and PBL are not just acronyms at The Learning Center. These teaching approaches are utilized daily and ensure that in every subject, elective and event at the school, teachers are reinforcing to students that the subjects they learn in the classroom have practical, real-world application. They provide a means for integration across the subjects and allow students to better understand through the physical act of doing.

What is Standards-Based Grading?

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The Learning Center! uses standards-based grading to assess student progress.  A single grade for each subject is not given.  Instead, each subject is broken into standards, or skills, and the student receives a mark indicating his or her level of achievement in that standard.  The student’s score is not an average of all assessments given throughout the grading period, but is awarded based upon the student’s highest level of proficiency of the standard.

All of the standards are year-long goals.  Therefore, as the year progresses and the depth of knowledge of each standard increases, it is possible to see a student’s proficiency level  fluctuate. The goal is for every student to have a solid command of each grade level content area by the end of the school year.

Students will also be assessed on 21st Century Skills and Character and Study Habits.  21st Century Skills include Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Collaboration and Communication.  Character and Study Skills include Responsibility, Conduct and Participation.

Why is Standards-Based grading better?  It lists the most important skills that the student should learn in each subject area providing parents and students a greater understanding of what the student knows and what areas are in need of improvement.  Factors such as effort in class, homework, etc. will now be assessed separately so that parents are informed of their child’s progress in these areas as well.  Just as MAP testing provides clear examples of a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, standards-based grading will provide similar information based on the state’s grade level expectations.  Grading and reporting is more consistent as a result.

More About 2nd Grade Learning About Sound

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Last week you read about second grade students and their whistle parade! These students have also been exploring sound in the classroom by rotating through stations and discovering how you can change the pitch of sound on a variety of different instruments. Students have learned that the length of a vibrating object is associated with the pitch it creates.

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Why are 1st Graders in the Garden?

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Students at TLC aren’t strangers to getting their hands dirty.  Why?  Because gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn.

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Gardens are living laboratories where our students learn everything from team work to food production and lessons can be taught across the curriculum.  Gardening encourages students to become active participants in the learning process.

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These first graders took time to plant radishes.  However, they weren’t just planting radishes.  They were also learning about energy that plants need to grow. They also deepened their understanding of how plants get nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and produce food.

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While they were in the garden, they snipped dozens of marigold blossoms in order to make garlands to decorate their classroom in celebration of fall harvest season!

2nd Grade Science — A Whistle Parade

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Second graders have been studying sound in science. In order to understand the relationship of pitch and length of air column, Ms. Emily had students play with water whistles. Students could change the length of their whistle by adding or removing water and then observe and hear how it affected the pitch.  The class had a blast learning about pitch with the whistles  . . . and with the whistle parade they did around campus!

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Penny Drive for Hurricane Relief

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Students at The Learning Center charter school have started a school wide Penny Drive to raise funds to benefit the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. They will be collecting pennies throughout the school year to send to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.

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The fourth graders have already filled one container and are on to the next!

Pennies from community members are welcome and would be greatly appreciated!

8th Grade Science PBL — Disease Transmission

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Recently, eighth grade students have been immersed in a project based learning (PBL) scenario where they are trying to determine what a mystery disease is and how to handle it from a community perspective. Students are taking on the roles of county health officials by diagnosing the disease, creating an action plan to stop the spread of the outbreak, and educating the public on disease transmission.

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PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. This mystery disease scenario is allowing these students to not only learn the science of disease but also a community response to manage it. This PBL approach helps students develop skills for living in our knowledge-based, highly technological world.

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