Recently, I watched “The Edible Car.” In this project, youth engineer a wacky solution to a fun, engaging question — “How can I build a vehicle out of every-day items?” This gets youth involved in STEM activities & principles. It seems perfect for OST programming because there are no scientists, engineers, techies or math pro leading this project. There are no lab coats or experiment kits. It became clear then that STEM is not about being a scientist or engineer who needs a laboratory. STEM is about critical thinking and problem solving.This emphasis on critical thinking mirrors the Project Based Learning (PBL) approach, and effective STEM and effective PBL hinge on a few common elements. Using the video as a guide, let’s look at how we can apply STEM to the PBL approach.
PBL, high-quality STEM, and the scientific method all start with a question that addresses a problem. In the Edible Car, the question (even if it isn’t stated directly) is, “How can we make a car out of every day items?” Once we have asked the question, we can develop a culminating product that provides novel answers. In this case, the culminating product is a race using the cars the youth made. This race allows the youth to show their answers to the question.
What comes in between the driving question and culminating product/event are activities that emphasize strong critical thinking and problem solving skills. The scientific method teaches us to research, create a hypothesis, experiment, evaluate, and make a conclusion.
In the Edible Car Project, this happens when the youth figure out what they need to make a mock car, what principles might make the car move better or faster, and how they will try their new ideas. The youth make and remake their cars depending on their test runs, and then they make changes. This is critical thinking and problem solving in a messy, fun way. Youth observe, evaluate, and adjust– the same as an engineer. In the end, they get to show off their work with the race.
While there is no out-of-the-box experiment, no white coats, and no Bunsen burners, STEM is happening. The youth are applying principles from science and the scientific method to engineer a solution to a problem. It is fun, engaging and is enhanced by using the PBL approach.