What is STEAM? What is PBL?

STEAM is "a framework for teaching where Science and Technology are understood as the basis of what the world has to go forward with, to be analyzed and developed through Engineering and the Arts, with the knowledge that everything is based in elements of Mathematics" (STEAM Education).

We deliver this framework using Problem-Based Learning, a curricular and instructional design that challenges students to learn through engagement in a real problem. PBL simultaneously develops both problem solving strategies and disciplinary knowledge and skills by placing students in the active role of problem-solvers confronted with an ill-structured situation that simulates real-world problems and issues.

Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding, and monitoring the learning process.

By encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and requiring students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution, the typical teacher-centered classroom is transformed into student-driven learning.


Why are we using STEAM and PBL?

The skills students build with problem-based learning help them in both school and life. While we want to improve all students' academic outcomes, PBL projects also:

  • Result in reduced academic anxiety and more positive attitudes,

  • Increase equity (reducing the the link between performance and student economic level), and

  • Generally enhance the quality of student learning.

Students' ability to work successfully in this collaborative problem-solving environment develops skills to be competitive in the 21st century workforce.

The STEAM Process


How often do students take part in PBL units? How do they feel about PBL?

Our expectation is that all core subjects (English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies) offer one PBL unit per trimester. Some PBL units may be cross-content, involving more than one core subject.

In spring 2017, focus groups were created from students that teachers recommended as doing either very well, doing the same, or struggling with PBL. The results from their feedback:

  • 80% of students felt they learned the same or more with PBL

  • 83% of students felt they were equally or more engaged in PBL units

  • 40% of students felt they produced very high quality work in PBL units, as compared to other work done at or for school

  • 16% of students did not want to continue doing PBL work


When did we start using STEAM and PBL?

During the 2015-2016 school year, our staff looked at what skills students need to be successful in life after high school. Many of these skills, such as critical thinking, aligned with those imparted through problem-based learning. Our staff attended Buck Institute training, worked with the district's STEM/PBL district staff and content area specialists, and began integrating STEAM and PBL into our curriculum beginning with science classes in the 2016-2017 school year.

We are continuing to implement STEAM through problem-based learning. Our current focus is on increasing student inquiry and building student skills in the Jeffco Generations competencies.


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