Problem-based Learning at the Rochester STEM High School

Charles, Lway, Selena, Corrina and Kameron share their research on teen pregnancy

Yesterday I attended a poster symposium put on by students of the Academy of Health Science (AOHS) at the Rochester City School District STEM High School. Since I spent two weeks with the STEM faculty in a summer institute on teaching through Problem-based learning, I was excited to participate in the culminating activity of the first problem.

About 6 weeks ago, the students of AOHS were presented with a real life problem regarding teen pregnancy and STDs in the Rochester area.  Each Wednesday, students researched, participated in lab activities, and learned about different aspects of to this important topic.  As a culminating activity, students created a tri-fold displaying what they’ve learned and solutions to help teens with this current health crisis.

Students worked in groups of four or five and created posters to present their research. Most students found the topic deeply engaging and relevant. According to Charles Nash, a tenth grader at STEM,

“Having a baby changes your life. You lose your childhood when you become a parent..its really hard”.

I asked the students what was the most surprising information they learned though their research and learned some surprising statistics:

  • One-in-four U.S. teens get pregnant by age 18.
  • The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world.
  • 20% of US teens live in poverty.

Asked about their sources of information, students gave a range of responses, although clearly the internet is a primary source of information.  Several student groups cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or told me they limited their online sources to those ending in  .gov, .org or .edu. Clearly, these students are learning not only the content, but also about the importance of distinguishing  credible from noncredible sources of online information.

In addition to asking about the research project itself, I also asked students how they felt about learning through Problem-Based Learning, as opposed to through traditional classroom instruction. All of the students I spoke with said they preferred it, believed they learned more and felt they were more likely to remember what they learned than through traditional instruction. Corrina Soto, a ninth grader at STEM summed it up nicely when she said,

“Its nice, you can teach yourself, instead of a boring lecture. It helps you know more when you teach yourself. When you put it in your own brain, it stays there”.

The research on learning backs up Corrina’s observation…active learning in context does indeed support longer-term memory. Bravo STEM HS!

3 Responses to Problem-based Learning at the Rochester STEM High School

  1. Great post! I love STEM as a focus for instruction. So many real world problems and needs can be impacted while learning and applying concepts using problem-based learning strategies. In my schooling, far too often the STEM concepts were taught through a teacher demonstration followed by an artificial lab set up to make the conclusions match the book’s diagram. It is efficient and it works for some learners, but it doesn’t work well enough for enough of them.

    However, aside from the STEM focus, I appreciate that this post suggests how other skills, like discerning between credible and non credible sources, need to be integrated with STEM lessons.

  2. Sara says:

    I just got an email pointing to another Blog on the same topic. Check it out:

  3. Sara, that blog reminded me of an article I read years ago. The focus is different. This article is not about an instructional strategy, but more about how we structure and run high schools. I just Googled it. It came out in ’98.

    I thought that maybe others would want to read it, too.

    Seventeen Reasons that Football is Better than High School

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