Crystal Meade, a fifth grade teacher at Boyce Elementary in Clarke County, is starting a new school year with a new vision. After attending the VISTA Elementary Science Institute on the George Mason campus this past summer, the 22-year teaching veteran is getting ready to use what she learned to increase her students’ achievement in science and develop their content knowledge.
“I also hope to increase students’ intrinsic motivation to become self- directed learners, while at the same time building their abilities to become 21st century learners,” she says.
As an elementary classroom teacher, Meade teaches all subjects, including “reading, spelling, and language arts (writing) which is taught in a Literacy Block, as well as math, VA studies, and science.” One of the things she picked up through the VISTA approach of problem-based learning (PBL) was that PBLs extend beyond the science curriculum.
PBL involves “students solving a problem over time like a scientist in a real-world context would. They also inquiry questions to gain evidence to solve the problem using hands-on science materials. Math and reading skills are integrated as well,” says Meade.
To design a PBL unit that covers the range of fifth grade science standards, Meade plans to begin by identifying a topic, or content area, and a theme, or focus area within the content.
Next, she’ll concoct a scenario, the realistic situation that provides the framework of the PBL, and the “problem” question, which the students will address by working toward possible solutions to solve it.
Finally, Meade will assign roles for the students to perform the scientific inquiry and provide time for a culminating student activity, which is the final project that showcases the students’ solutions.
“In creating science lessons this way,” she says, “students will participate in cross-curricula activities and learn essential skills in the areas of math, science, reading, and language arts” within the PBL learning environment.
By creating a rich learning environment with instructional strategies that incorporate hands-on inquiry and the nature of science, Meade says she is looking forward to helping her students experience science through active learning.
“Integrating activities within each unit will guide the students to learn the fifth grade standards while gathering evidence to formulate solutions to the problem question of the PBL,” she says.