PAA Pairs STEM and Project-Based Learning

July 06, 2019 | Education | Liesl Vistaunet

In all departments and at every level, teachers at Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) are introducing students to project-based learning (PBL).

“We’re working for NASA,” says Courtney Clark, a PAA junior, in her last week of school. She sits backward in her chair facing classmate Austin Ulloa as he carefully draws a tetrahedron. “We’re supposed to create containers that can transport food long distances through space. It’s a PBL.”

In PBL classrooms like Clark’s precalculus class, students become a community of learners who seek solutions to real-life challenges. Smartphones and laptops are resources and tools. Students share ideas freely, teach each other, and learn to work in and out of teams.

Modern learners like Clark and Ulloa thrive on PBL. They’re intelligent, they’re excited to learn, they’re social, and they have all the answers to all of life’s questions on their smartphones and laptops. They’re excited to apply the answer it to solve real-life problems.

Veteran teacher Bob Johnson has been teaching math to teenagers for more than 30 years. He’s excited about PBL because he believes it’s an ideal companion to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. His classes come to life for many students who may typically dislike math.

In the final weeks of the school year, Johnson asked students to demonstrate their understanding of precalculus by solving problems NASA scientists might actually need to solve. Transporting food long distances through space may become a reality as humans explore the possibility of traveling to Mars.

On the last day of class, Clark proudly sports a NASA jacket and smiles widely as she holds up her final cylindrical prototype. Ulloa shows off the tetrahedron he was so carefully measuring earlier that week. While neither has any goals to work for NASA, they see value in this PBL.

Ulloa plans to work in health care as either a nurse or an imaging technician. “I know I will have a lot more classes in math and science ahead,” he says.

Clark is enthusiastic for her future. “I really love working with numbers, graphs, budgeting, finance and all that kind of stuff,” she says. “Even though I don’t use precalculus in my everyday life, I know it’s getting me ready for all the other things I still have to learn for what I really want to do someday.”

And what is that? “I want to be a CFO, just like my dad.”

Read more on Portland Adventist Academy's website.