Successful Project Based Learning (PBL) Across Disciplines Geared Towards Middle School: An Example from a Wetlands PBL Unit in Reno, Nevada, USA
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
A growing need for broad dissemination of current scientific research and improved scientific literacy requires new models of professional development that allow for direct collaboration between educators and university researchers. One example is a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of a study titled, “Reconstructing 2500 years of environmental change at the periphery of Rome: Integrating paleoecology and socioeconomic history to understand human response to climate.” This project involves a team of middle school teachers working with researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to gain first-hand knowledge in multidisciplinary research connecting science and society, and applies a similar approach in the classroom. In 2013, the team’s science teacher traveled to Italy as a member of the science research group. A series of workshops introduced the remaining teachers to the research project. Teachers collaborated to develop a Project Based Learning (PBL) unit that incorporated Next Generation Science Standards and encompassed English, Social Studies, Math, and Science curricula using a pedagogical approach different from the single subject-based PBL’s usually taught in their school district. The PBL unit draws on the NSF study and focuses on exploring the balance between economic and environmental issues surrounding local wetlands. In May 2014, 160 middle school students worked in groups to create and test a question about physio-chemical parameters in a nearby wetland and used these data to discuss local economic development. Initially, students claimed polarized views of environmental issues or economic development interests; however, during a multimedia session showcasing results, students communicated more informed perspectives that clearly incorporated knowledge gained from their own research. Some students were able to make recommendations for good practices involving planned economic development near the wetland. Preliminary outcomes suggests this model: 1) permits authentic exploration of the role of scientific research in making informed policy decisions; 2) promotes diverse perspectives when approaching environmental and socioeconomic problems; and 3) enhances group engagement in developing scientific literacy.