At the core of education is the never ending quest to find a way to ‘do teaching’ better so that students are successful in life. The continuous evolution of the craft is impacted from all aspects of society. But there are two primary arenas that are currently influencing the content and mechanism for delivery of instruction: 21st century success skills and digital technology. These two arenas are prevalent constructs of Project Based Learning (PBL), STEM/STEAM and SAMR.
Let’s first consider PBL. Its reiterative and reflective nature allows for cohesive content delivery through the integration of technology. PBL serves as a connector of different content areas which are revised and reflected through a practice of 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and self-management. Additionally, the integrated content is imported and facilitated through digital technology tools for the purposes of inquiry, collaboration and publishing. All of it combining to create significant impact on student outcomes, making learning happen. PBL and technology exist in partnership. And, the connection is deep. Technology does not exist to merely serve as a transmission vehicle for content objectives. Technology within PBL permeates the practice by guiding students through learning opportunities as they inquire, produce and interact with the content in the real world. PBL’s pedagogy prioritizes authenticity and analysis which cannot come to fruition without being in a symbiotic relationship with digital technology: a conduit to the real world.
How can this partnership between PBL and digital technology be most successful? The connection between PBL and technology is, no doubt, essential but the association must be purposeful, meaningful and echo common learning objectives. The SAMR model created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura is an eloquent approach to this crossroad of PBL pedagogy and digital technology integration. First, SAMR eliminates content specificity and emphasizes cross-curricular patterns and commonalities. This matches PBL’s aspect of connecting different content. Both foster cross-curricular collaboration by teachers. Both open up the window for an expanding student voice. Second, SAMR reinforces the PBL practices of revising and reflecting by promoting frequent reconsideration of practice by the teacher in order to optimize use of technology in pursuit of student success. Reconsideration, revision and reflection are vital from both the teacher’s perspective and the students’. This practice fosters another avenue for student voice and promotes learning that progresses as more student-driven. Finally, the SAMR model has levels or steps that perfectly mimic Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. I’ve created the table beyond to help visualize the connections between Bloom’s Technology and the SAMR model.
Connections between Bloom’s Taxonomy and the SAMR model
|Bloom’s Taxonomy||SAMR Model levels||Digital technology platforms|
|analyze, evaluate, create||Redefinition||publishing platforms (ex. voicethread)|
|Modification||collaborating platforms (ex. padlet)|
|remember, understand, apply||Augmentation||communication platforms (ex. Google docs)|
Bloom’s Taxonomy is directly relevant to ensuring rigor, especially when learning actions in a PBL unit are correlated to higher-order categories (Boss, 2014, p. 67). There is an evident web of connections between PBL and technology through SAMR as stated above. And, the weaving of digital tools will guarantee more effective PBL teaching practices, project design, and student learning goals.
It’s hard to imagine that the idyllic partnership between PBL and SAMR could get any better. PBL, alongside SAMR with its with digital technology offerings, has the priority of engaging students through solving a real-world problem or a driving questions which will result in a public product/presentation for a real audience. In an exemplary situation, PBL employs SAMR and exploits digital technology to exercise students’ voice/choice, to practice revision and reflection and to finetune 21st century success skills. However, at the center of a Gold Standard PBL is a two-pronged student learning goal:
- Students learning academic content
- Students acquiring success skills
This is where STEM/STEAM enters the picture. STEM/STEAM injects the academic content. STEM/STEAM gathers a combination of content (science technology, engineering, art and math) that traditionally has been often isolated. STEM/STEAM is designed as a way of learning that resembles real life. STEM/STEAM reverberates the objectives of PBL by promoting critical thinking, collaboration, communication and real-world exploration. The characteristics of a great STEM/STEAM lesson include:
- Focus on real-world issues or problem
- Guide by the engineering design process
- Immerse students in hands-on inquiry and open-ended exploration
- Involve students in productive teamwork
- Applies rigorous math and science content
- Allow for multiple right answers and reframe failure as a necessary part of learning
Weaving STEM/STEAM into the PBL/SAMR network solidies the goal of students learning academic content. PBL provides the technique for STEM/STEAM content delivery. PBL, in a SAMR partnership, is the interface that brings real-world authenticity to STEM/STEAM lessons.
In an ultimate, perfect education world, the amalgamation of PBL, SAMR and STEM/STEAM would come together to guarantee that students are successful in life. But, it’s not that simple. In practice, each of these areas of educational transformation are approached by educators in varying stages of evolution in their craft. Some will be very comfortable and able to embrace digital technology full force. Others will have evolved to be able to collaborate in content areas different from their own. The beauty of teaching is that not all units or lessons must conform to the highest level of Bloom or the top step of the SAMR. Success can happen all along the spectrum. And this journey – for both teacher and student – is where the learning happens.
Boss, S. and Krauss, J. (2014). Reinventing project-based learning: Your field guide to real-world projects in the digital age. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
Buck Institute for Education. 21st Century Skills and the Workplace. Retrieved on July 16, 2018 from https://www.bie.org/object/document/21st_century_skills_and_the_workplace.
Gorman, M. Essential Connections of STEM, PBL, and Technology Integration… What Would Dewey Think? 21st Century Education Technology and Learning. Retrieved on July 16, 2018 from https://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/essential- connections-of-stem-pbl-and-tech-integration-what-would-dewey-think/.
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards. Retrieved on July 17, 2018 from http://www.iste.org/standards.
Jolly, A. Six Characteristics of a Great STEM Program. Education Week. Retrieved on July 16, 2018 from https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/06/17/ctq_jolly_stem.html.
Lamar, J., Mergendoller, J. and Boss, S. Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved on July 16, 2018 from http://www.bie.org/blog/gold_standard_pbl_essential_project_design_elements.
Puentedura, R. Ruben Puentedura on the Impact of the SAMR Model. Common Sense Education. Retrieved on July 16, 2018 from https://www.commonsense.org/ education/videos/ruben-puentedura-on-the-impact-of-the-samr-model?page=1.