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.

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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4th Grade Begins Project Based Learning Project

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Students in fourth grade have begun a Project Based Learning project that began will a physical science based activity called Contraptions. Ms. Chris was able to purchase Contraptions with the Tools for Schools money our school earns when parents shop at Ingles. IMG956476

Students had wooden planks and balls to make contraptions that would move the ball from one point to another. Ms. Chris says that she was amazed at the contraptions they built and the team work they demonstrated during their first Project Based Learning time!

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4th Grade — Making Animal Habitats and Environments

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If you’ve been following along over the past several weeks here on the blog, then you’ve seen these fourth graders learning about animals and their habitats. You’ve seen them create imaginary animals and understand what their habitats would have to contain in order for them to survive. These photos are of these students now creating these habitats for their animals. This ongoing project has touched on studies in science, math, reading and social studies and has kept these students engaged in the learning process.

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Visiting Artist Plans Recycled Art Project for Campus Gardens

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Back in March, Ashevile based artist, Jeff Menzer, visited The Learning Center to plan projects he and students will be implementing on campus this spring. Mr. Menzer specializes in creating “Re-Art” Sculpture, figurative sculpture, and environmental installations using found objects and industrial discards.  This spring he will work with our students to turn discarded trampoline parts into art pieces that will become part of The Outdoor Learning Center.

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This large scale art piece project serves to involve students in the design process, involve students in collaborative problem solving of environmental issues through the creative process, and to complete two art sculptures, one a shelter and one large bug, that will be permanently installed on campus.

4th Grade — Research Projects

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Fourth grade students recently conducted research projects on the world’s most unusual animals. They created lap books and shared their findings with their classmates. They have now taken this project a step further as they are combining each of their unique animals into “new” creatures. Groups of three students are working on designing their “new” animals by combining their special characteristics, designing a new habitat and explaining how their new animal will survive.

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2nd Grade — STEM — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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Second grade celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd. As part of the two week project based learning unit, the students were taught the importance of protecting and caring for our environment, both locally and globally. In Reading, the children read about recycling, comparing how paper and glass is made, and they had a chance to take a “trip” with a plastic bottle to see how it’s made and how it was repurposed and recycled. In Writing, the students completed a research paper in which they wrote about our earth and how and why we should protect it. In Science, the children learned about the resources the earth provides us and how these resources are used and how they should be conserved. In Social Studies, students learned how environmental issues affect not only our local community, but has far reaching global impacts. To end the Earth Day unit, students were presented with a challenge. They had to use math and engineering skills to design and repurpose trash into something new. The students had to take the projects in steps by planning, deciding on materials, sketching out designs, building their ideas and sharing their end product with other students.  IMG_6258 IMG_6263 IMG_6266 IMG_6272 IMG_6220

Throughout the Earth Day studies, students picked up trash, discussed ways to reuse supplies, wear hand-me-downs, consume less, and finished off with creating reusable grocery bags out of old t-shirts. Students loved making the bags and wanted to use every little bit of waste fabric to create costumes. IMG_6221

Second grade enjoyed learning about the environment, why we should recycle, reduce and reuse and why planet Earth is a miraculous gift that we should all work together to care for. IMG_6222 IMG_6223 IMG_6224 IMG_6225

8th Grade Science — PBL & STEM — Conservation

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[PBL stands for Project Based Learning. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.]

Recently, students in eighth grade were challenged with designing an educational display to teach fourth graders why it is important to conserve.  Students researched conservation issues and tips, then created models to help them teach.

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The class finished the project by rotating fourth graders through each learning station.  The younger students loved it and want to do it again!

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Eighth graders made impressive and creative models, ranging from Lego stations illustrating conservation techniques to a 3-D paper house and origami tree.  Other teachers and community members were invited to tour stations.  It was neat seeing the 8th graders really take ownership of their knowledge as they felt responsible to help the fourth graders understand ways they could help the environment.

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8th Grade STEM & PBL — Geologic Time

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(STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  PBL stands for Project Based Learning.)
Eighth grade students recently worked on a geologic time unit and got to explore how scientists have learned how to calculate the age of rocks, what fossils tell us about past life forms, and the vast expanse of time Earth has been around.   They learned about fossils, absolute and relative dating, and the four major eras of geologic time.   IMG_20151116_092410_256
Students started the unit by creating scale model timelines of the eras of time.  If each billion years Earth has been around was represented by a meter, a timeline would have to be 4.6 meters long. Students were shocked as they put this into perspective by creating this model.
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Next, the class worked through interactive stations learning about relative dating.  One example is students rotated though the Corndog Factory where they had to make a corndog with playdough and popsicle sticks. They then decided which had to be older or created first (the corndog, before the stick could cut through it).  This taught them the relative dating principle of intrusions. Intrusions are younger than the rock they intrude upon.
IMG_20151208_093257_243Then working in pairs they played teacher as they presented information to their class.
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