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MIT BLOSSOMS releases Project-Based Learning resources for high school STEM instruction

Pipette dropping green sample chemical over young sample plant growing in test tube

PK-12 Action Group

MIT BLOSSOMS, an international education initiative founded in 2008 to encourage high school STEM teachers to pursue more active, student-centered learning, has recently enlarged its focus to support teachers interested in exploring Project-Based Learning (PBL). With financial support from US Open Education Resources Foundation, Inc., BLOSSOMS has released five new PBL units, freely available for anyone to use.

The five new BLOSSOMS PBL units include:

In contrast to traditional teaching and learning models that have students passively “receiving content” from the teacher, PBL offers a substantially different experience in which small teams of students work on a demanding problem over the course of several weeks, an approach that can lead to higher learning retention rates. The ideal problem is socially important, located in the real world, preferably in the students’ own community, and requires mature application of STEM knowledge.

Each learning team must devise its own procedures for problem framing, formulation, and resolution. This allows students to develop 21st-century skills involving cooperation, conflict resolution, and collaboration, sometimes including reaching out to local professionals who work in the domain of the assigned problem. The team’s problem resolution is typically presented in a final written report and public oral presentation, often with local stakeholders attending.

“Imagine the challenge for a teacher to design and operate such a PBL project over the course of three to five weeks, while still having to prepare and give lectures for other required topics,” says Prof. Richard Larson, Principal Investigator of the MIT BLOSSOMS Initiative. “This ‘start-up cost’ of time and energy is one reason why many high school STEM teachers hesitate to try PBL. The new MIT BLOSSOMS units are designed for those who want to try PBL, but are not sure how to get started.” The turn-key units provide all the resources and scaffolding needed to lead a three- to five-week classroom project, including video instruction, a “Project Calendar,” and a variety of downloadable resources.

Credit: Storyblocks

As illustration, consider the PBL unit Green Chemistry. This 2-part unit, developed by two Massachusetts high school Chemistry teachers, starts on Day 1 with students watching the BLOSSOMS interactive video lesson, “Introducing Green Chemistry: The Science of Solutions.” Building on the fundamentals from the video and new lessons provided in the unit, student teams are assigned to pursue the following Driving Question: “How can we become a sustainable community through the 12 principles of Green Chemistry?” During the 4-week Part 1 project of this unit, the teams conduct comprehensive life cycle analyses of commercial products commonly used in their community and present their results, recommending which products are equally effective, yet more sustainable. During the 4-week Part 2 project, the teams select, research, and test the life cycle of a commercial product and compare it to that of a mushroom-based alternative product that they design and develop themselves. Each part of this PBL unit introduces students to important issues of pollution and sustainability, and provides them with invaluable team experiences of problem-solving, collaboration, creative thinking, and contributing to their communities in addition to hands-on chemistry.

Education professionals are looking forward to using these new PBL resources. According to Michael Lauro, Associate Executive Director of the Atlantis Charter High School in Fall River, Massachusetts, “We have learned much from collaborating with the MIT BLOSSOMS team over the past three years. We think we have played some role in helping BLOSSOMS define their PBL capabilities, and we look forward to using in our classrooms these five new PBL exercises in the coming academic year.”

Discover the new PBL Units on the MIT BLOSSOMS website.



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