Project-based learning… STEM… Gifted and Talented. What’s the difference really in these ideas? Do you know? If you saw a student working in class, could you tell the difference between a project, a STEM activity, and a GT assignment?
A look at Project Based Learning (PBL)
PBL gives students the opportunity to learn through the use of projects and problem solving. Projects are more than just engaging lessons. They include essential elements that raise the rigor of learning in the project. PBL Projects are aligned with multiple standards and often across multiple content areas. They also tend to be student-driven with many opportunities for students to make choices about how they work on their project, and how they present their findings. PBL is often used with a diverse group of learners and is differentiated to meet the needs of those learners as they work together.
In a PBL classroom, you’ll see groups of students working on different aspects of the project. Each aspect is driven by the need to problem solve in order to address a driving question. For example, one group of students may be researching to learn more about background information, while another group is developing questions for an interview with a business professional in a field associated with the project. Teachers participate in PBL by acting as facilitators in the classroom. They’ll check on the status of each group, and teach mini-lessons or provide guidance as needed. They’ll also have checkpoints that determine if students are staying on task and are on-track with the project timeline.
A Look at STEM
STEM activities focus on the content areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The purpose to a STEM activity is to find solutions to a real world problem through the engineering design process. STEM activities may present themselves as projects, but don’t have to. STEM activities can be an engaging series of lessons within a single grade level or a camp that involves multiple grade levels.
A typical STEM lesson-series usually takes place with a teacher and classroom of diverse learners. The teacher presents, and teaches on, a topic or problem. Students then use the information they’ve learned to problem solve a real situation using math, science, and technology. During group time, students work together to build a model as a solution to the problem. Teachers then provide feedback and help students determine how models can be revised to provide even better results.
By partnering with business professionals, schools can gain access to necessary resources and technology to engage STEM activities on their campus. Additionally, students that participate in STEM also have a great understanding of how to use the engineering design process to problem solve, refine solutions, and improve their final products.
A Look at Gifted and Talented Services
The Texas State Plan for Gifted and Talented Services provides teachers with guidance on how to enrich and extend learning for students that are gifted learners. These services can happen in a regular classroom with a GT certified teacher, or during a pull-out group. GT programs provide enrichment opportunities for learners who excel in very specific areas. Often this enrichment comes in the form of lessons that have added depth and complexity, lessons that are differentiated for gifted learners, or independent studies.
When teachers use differentiation to provide GT services, their classrooms look like typical classrooms. Students participate in lessons and then complete an activity to show mastery of the concepts presented. Differentiation happens through tiered content levels, varied opportunities of practice, or varied opportunities to show mastery. If a teacher is choosing to allow GT students to work on an independent study, you’ll notice that a majority of the students are working on a single topic, while GT students work on a different task. Independent studies are self-directed and open-ended to give GT Students a variety of opportunities to engage in their learning.
PBL, STEM, and GT services all provide opportunities to extend student learning, are all engaging, and all use problem solving to guide students’ learning and prepare them for the future.
Amber Reinecke is the Cross-Curricular Systems Program Manager and Gifted and Talented (GT) Specialist at ESC Region 13. She has experience as an elementary classroom GT teacher, as well as six years of experience as a Gifted and Talented Pull-out Teacher and Instructional Coach. She has a passion for working with the gifted community in order to advocate for student needs.