(Editor's note: I asked Dr. Lacey to write a guest blog post after reading about Education Week's "Leaders to Learn From" recognition of her for "Leadership in Educational Technology.")
My district’s current focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) illustrates our vision of ensuring students are college and career ready. Each of our seventeen schools are currently working toward AdvancED STEM Certification. Through this process, the primary goal is to prepare students for careers of tomorrow by exposing them to inquiry-based learning environments that encourage innovative and creative solutions to “real world” issues.
The STEM movement aligns perfectly with Talladega County Schools’ primary instructional methodology, Project Based Learning. What makes PBL such a fluid strategy is that it encompasses the 4 C’s that are vital for preparing students for a high-tech workforce: communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. In recent months, we have included a fifth “C”, computational thinking.
PBL for Computational Thinking
Along with two other school districts in the U.S., we received a one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to study “computational thinking”. Through this collaboration, we are currently developing a K-12 Computational Thinking Pathway to ensure that students are engaged in these critical competencies throughout their education. Some of these key competencies include algorithmic thinking, collecting/analyzing data, and building models and simulations. The goal is for students to engage in computational thinking strategies across all content areas, not just science, math, and computer science.
Throughout the PBL process, there are multiple opportunities to engage students in computational thinking strategies. For example, during the engineering design process, students may engage in algorithmic thinking to determine the most effective steps in designing a prototype. Data collection and analysis is a key strategy when testing prototypes or solving a particular problem. Plus, students are engaged in evaluation and reflection throughout the PBL process.
PBLWorks, aka the Buck Institute for Education, played an important part in Talladega County Schools’ initial journey, which began 11 years ago. We read their publications and got extensive training in their PBL model. Without the expertise of PBL Works, I think our classrooms would still be functioning much in the same way they did twenty years ago. PBL has revolutionized teaching and learning throughout the district, which has been key to six schools earning AdvancED STEM certification in 2019.
The PBL movement in our district has been transformative in multiple ways, by promoting a deep connection to learning on issues that students see relevant. Through meaningful and dynamic projects, students have not only impacted their communities, but their state as well. Here are two examples.
- In 2017, Governor Kay Ivey signed a proclamation declaring “Click It…Don’t Risk It Week” as a result of a project in Winterboro High School’s Business Education Department in which students increased seatbelt safety awareness.
- Equally impressive, Munford Middle School’s project on organ donation in honor of student Angelynn Luckado changed the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in Alabama to “Angleynn and Courtney’s Law”. With the revision of the current act, the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency is required to implement a program promoting organ donation through the application or renewal process for driver’s licenses and to include brochures and other information on organ donation at all drivers license offices.
Finally, here’s some impressive data that we attribute to our focus on PBL. In 2007-2008, the graduation rate at Winterboro High School was 61%. Winterboro has become our PBL flagship school, and in 2018-2019 the graduation rate was 100%!
For more information on Talladega County Schools’ eleven-year journey into PBL and STEAM learning, go to www.tcboe.org.