How to Increase Student Engagement During Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a teaching method that utilizes hands-on learning experiences to help students further develop their skills in various subjects. This learning style is commonly used when teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because its real-world connections help students gain a deeper understanding of complex concepts. Regardless of grade level, it can be difficult to keep students engaged throughout project-based lessons. This article talks about the struggles of keeping students engaged during STEM lessons and provides practical tips and strategies to increase student engagement.

Promoting Critical Thinking Skills through Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a powerful teaching approach that promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By engaging in hands-on projects, students are encouraged to think analytically, draw connections between concepts, and create innovative solutions to real-world challenges.

In STEM project-based lessons, students leverage critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in various ways. Below are some examples of how STEM project-based lessons help students build 21st-century skills:

  • Analyzing sports data to identify trends and patterns, honing statistical skills and critical reasoning.
  • Designing and constructing functional model bridges, applying engineering principles, and troubleshooting to optimize strength and stability.
  • Investigating environmental issues, employing scientific inquiry, and problem-solving to propose sustainable solutions.
  • Creating interactive simulations and games, integrating coding and logical reasoning to enhance user experiences.

Harnessing Project-Based Learning to Emphasize Real-World Applications

Project-based learning offers students the opportunity to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application, which promotes a deeper understanding of concepts. By engaging in hands-on projects, students gain practical experience, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking abilities that can be directly applied to real-life situations.

For example, when teaching a lesson on engineering, educators can connect the engineering design process (EDP) to basketball. During this hands-on lesson, students can act as product designers tasked with designing the most effective basketball shoe. This engaging, fun lesson introduces students to key engineering and science concepts through a real-world application that will keep them engaged. This is one of the many examples of how project-based learning can emphasize real-world applications and show students WHY what they are learning is important. 

Integrating Project-Based Learning into Lesson Plans

By engaging in hands-on projects, students gain practical experience, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking abilities that can be directly applied to real-life situations. When creating STEM lesson plans, educators can begin implementing project-based learning methods in replacement of or in conjunction with traditional approaches to learning. This can have a positive impact on student engagement and this higher engagement can lead to improved comprehension of complex STEM concepts. 

Steps for an Engaging STEM Project

Integrating project-based learning methods into classroom lesson plans can be an enriching and effective way to engage students. Below are some practical tools educators can take to successfully implement this new learning style:

  1. Define Clear Learning Objectives and Outcomes: Begin by identifying specific learning objectives that align with the curriculum and the skills you want students to develop. This objective will help create a clear goal for students and can ensure the lesson aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 
  2. Select Meaningful and Relevant Projects: Choose projects relevant to the student’s lives and connect them to real-world applications. Consider incorporating student interests and allowing some flexibility in project choices to foster engagement. For example, in a math class, students can use sports statistics to practice fractions and percentages.
  3. Create a Structured Project Plan: Break down the project into smaller tasks and create a timeline to guide students through the process. Provide clear instructions and resources to support their learning journey. Start the lesson with simpler tasks and gradually increase the complexity as students progress and increase their comprehension.
  4. Foster Collaboration and Teamwork: Encourage collaboration and teamwork among students to promote communication, problem-solving, and social skills. Assign roles and responsibilities to ensure everyone contributes to the project’s success. Incorporate regular check-ins and peer evaluations to monitor progress and encourage accountability within the group.
  5. Celebrate and Showcase the Projects: Organize an event or presentation where students can showcase their projects to peers and teachers. Celebrating their work not only boosts their confidence but emphasizes the real-world significance of their efforts.

Resources for Teachers and Administrators for Project-Based Learning

It can be difficult for educators and administrators who are looking to implement new project-based learning methods with their students. There are a variety of different resources available that can help educators to create strong lesson plans that utilize project-based learning to enhance student engagement and learning. Below is a list of resources that can be used by educators:

  1. Use the Bloom Taxonomy method to create lesson plans that clearly outline the final objective. This six-step process helps teachers and students systematically work through a project-based lesson without missing out on key learning opportunities. 
  2. Find a strong facilitator for the lesson plan. STEM Sports® uses sports as a way to facilitate STEM lessons for K-8 students. The curriculum uses real-life sports scenarios to help students connect STEM subjects to the real world.
  3. The Edutopia Project-Based Learning Core Strategy Page provides strategies for educators to create new lesson plans. The page also highlights real classroom experiences to help guide a successful lesson

Relevance of Project-Based Learning across Age Groups

STEM Sports® is an educational company that blends sports and STEM to deliver innovative and engaging learning experiences to K-8 students. The curricula focus on teaching various STEM concepts through the lens of sports, providing students with practical applications of theoretical knowledge. By leveraging the appeal of sports, STEM Sports® uses hands-on and project-based learning methods to get students engaged and excited about STEM learning. Whether it is a traditional classroom environment, at-home learning, summer camps, or afterschool programs, STEM Sports® uses project-based learning to spark a passion for STEM and prepare students for higher education and the STEM workforce. 

If you are an educator or school administrator looking to implement project-based learning with your students, click here to explore the STEM Sports® curricula.

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