An Evaluation Of A Stem Magnet Program That Utilizes Project-Based Learning To Improve Student Achievement

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An Evaluation Of A Stem Magnet Program That Utilizes Project-Based Learning To Improve Student Achievement is a well-researched Education Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research.

ABSTRACT

This program evaluation analyzes three areas of a secondary level STEM Magnet program that implements Project-Based Learning (PBL) of Engineering, Biomedical Science, and Game Design and the relationship to student achievement.

My program analysis examines multiple stakeholders’ perceptions of the efficacy of STEM-PBL curricula implemented with a cross-curricular framework integrating multiple content standards to solve real-world issues. Through the curricula, students develop the 21st-century skill set of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

The findings indicate STEM teachers maximize curriculum with relevant hands-on activities enhancing student collaboration and industry certifications. Additional findings indicated a lack of planning time for cross-curricular collaboration between content areas, appropriate state and national prioritization of Science STEM-PBL lessons, and a lack of district funding.

INTRODUCTION

The focus of my program evaluation is the exploration of project-based learning in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) high school as it relates to improving student achievement. The school identified for the study originally opened in 1934 serving only the African American population and was then re-established in 2002 as a pre-collegiate STEM Magnet High School.

The Avatar Technological High School’s (pseudonym) mission communicates that the school community focuses combined efforts on teaching students to be life-long learners by excelling academically, becoming technologically competent, demonstrating ethical values, and taking their place as competitive members of a global community.

The Stem programs offered at the school include Engineering, Bio-Medical/Biotechnology Science, Computer Game Design, and Computer Systems Engineering. Two of the programs mentioned, Engineering and Biomedical Science, are aligned with national Project Lead the Way curricula, while the other two program academies, Computer Game Design and Computer Systems Engineering, are aligned with the Florida Department of Education curricula frameworks.

All four programs integrate technology and employ hands-on experience
combined with project-based learning. In addition, the programs each integrate application-based learning and select students on set criteria that equates to an index score. The index score calculation is based on a combined criterion of 7th grade and the first quarter of 8th-grade achievement scores, combined with test scores on the FSA.

At the time of the study, the total population of the school was comprised of approximately 43% Magnet and 57% Traditional (community) students that are zoned for the school based on their address. The program was marketed district-wide and cycles through three application periods in November, April, and June.

The STEM high school at the time of the study had a total enrollment of
approximately over 1500, with a breakdown of student demographics comprised of Asian 7%, Black 52%, Hispanic 18%, White 19%, and Indian/Multi-Racial 4%, with a free and reduced lunch population of 63%.

The traditional population consisted of students from predominantly low socio-economic status with approximately 80% possessing low reading and math ability of a level one or two. The high school has a rich African-American heritage as a school established originally within a predominantly African-American neighborhood community.

Historically, the STEM program at Avatar Technological High School began with low enrollment and has grown through the years since its inception. Throughout my analysis, I investigate teacher perspectives through means of a survey on project-based learning within a STEM curriculum, examining the components that are needed to improve student achievement.

I probe and drill down into the components of project-based learning and any possible connection to problem-solving ability, critical thinking, motivation, and interest level as a way to improve student achievement. The Magnet programs examined in this study consist of 210 students in engineering totaling 12.9%, 173 students in Biomedical/Biotechnology Science totaling 10.6%, and 153 students in Computer Game Design totaling 9.4 %.

The cost to support Magnet programs has been an increasing source of discussion in a climate of budget constraints and redeployment of school employees to compensate for the school district’s fiscal deficit. The district is presently faced with financial problems and is right-sizing the budget.

Some of the schools are not filled and others have been filled beyond capacity. The district schools’ costly air conditioning system maintenance and repair needs have been a continuing concern. In addition to maintenance, the district must find funding in the amount of approximately $1 billion for new schools required to accommodate projected growth.

In this fiscal context, specialized Magnet Programs and academies that require transportation and have experienced some attrition in recent years have been under heightened scrutiny as administrators consider other pressing funding demands throughout the district.

Through a thorough analysis of the school program, I have explored the basis of STEM education and the impact of its project-based instructional method employed to improve student critical thinking, academic interest and motivation level to ultimately increase student academic achievement in these STEM-focused areas. In the following quote, leading researchers of Project-Based Learning (PBL) have characterized the PBS teaching method:

Although project-based learning is not a panacea, we can confidently say that PBL is a powerful teaching method that motivates students, prepares them for college, careers and citizenship, and meets standards to demonstrate deep learning and critical thinking skills while allowing teachers to teach in a more gratifying manner.

(Larmer, Mergendoller, & Boss, 2015, p. 2) I have identified and assessed the use of PBL components through teacher interviews and survey data collected from teacher perspectives on project-based learning.

Project-Based Learning is defined as an instructional process that is inquiry-based and results in a product or solution (Krauss & Boss, 2015). Students employ high-level critical thinking skills and pull from concept knowledge across multiple disciplines to solve real-world problems.

These are the skills that are in demand for the twenty-first century to prepare students for future careers (Wagner, 2008). Another key component of project-based learning is the fostering of student collaboration and team-work that is key to the problem-solving process.

These skills, which are acquired within the context of the STEM curricula experiences, provide a substantive rationale for costs associated with STEM Magnet schools as an effective means for improving student achievement.

A critical aspect of the argument for STEM Magnet schools is the long-term effect that these skills have for students. Student’s long-term retention is said to increase with project-based learning due to the inquiry-driven connections that exist in the process.

The learning outcomes associated with PBL include deeper levels of conceptual understanding: “Project-based learning helps students articulate concept meaning, applying what they know consolidating their knowledge making learning relevant and memorable” (Krauss & Boss, 2013).

Students self-assess during the process and improve the product themselves, applying their content knowledge of many disciplines. These are the cognitive processes students need in order to be successful at the college level.

The accurate assessment of these complex skills is another key component to be considered. The national standing in science and mathematics performance levels as compared to global performance levels suggests that United States students are lagging behind other countries (Wagner, 2008).

Project-based learning could be a method of advancing science and mathematics performance levels by integrating the common core curriculum with relevant purpose, creating a generation of future innovators.

Educational researchers recommend STEM as a means to advance positive education reform: “STEM has the potential to be a driving force fostering innovation in education that could align with the contemporary standards-based education providing direction for future educational reform” (Bybee, 2013, p. 2).

The basis of my program evaluation revolves around an inquiry into STEM educational practices as a means for providing evidence concerning the efficacy of PBL STEM learning methods. The inquiry considers whether PBL learning methodology provides an efficient means to effect improved student achievement.

The cost of PBL STEM learning contexts seems to be worth the expected
student achievement gains in science and mathematics. PBL fosters critical thinking and greater content comprehension while meeting and exceeding the curricular content standards needed to prepare our students for future demands.

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Thesis/Dissertation topic

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Education

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