Making Inquiry-Based Learning Authentic through Human-Centered Design

Authentic Learning is Key

Over the past semester, I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to how PBL and Inquiry-Based Learning fit together.  This past week, I’ve started to think more about how PBL and Inquiry-Based Learning can be implemented in STEAM.  Earlier today, I had a Eureka moment when I came to the realization that the commonality between STEAM, transformative Technology Integration, PBL and Inquiry-Based Learning is authentic learning.  When developing my curriculum STEAM I focused on cross-curricular 9 week long projects that tied together students’ learning from all their subjects.  Sometimes, I felt my projects offered authentic learning experiences.

For example, one project that I feel was one of my stronger projects was “Taking Learning to New Heights with Power Up 3.0”.  My third graders were reading about the Wright Brothers in reading, so in STEAM I wanted to teach them about the scientific principles behind flight.   This project was made possible by a grant from the Beaver County Educational Trust.  With the money they provided me, I was able to purchase a class set of Power Up 3.0s.  These devices connect to an iPad (or smartphone) through Bluetooth.  The device has a rudder and a propeller on it that you attach to a paper airplane.  The app on the iPad provides students with a flight simulator experience and allows them to control the rudder and propeller.  Additionally, I had a pilot come in to speak to the third grades.  I also had several high school students who were studying at the CCBC Aviation Academy come in to help my students fly their paper airplanes.  The BCET honored me with the Exemplary Mini-Grant award for this project and subsequently named me Beaver County Teacher of the Year.  The BCET also nominated me for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year 2019, and I am honored to have been named a Semi-Finalist.  As I reflect on my past teaching practices, however, I realize not all of my projects had strong, real-world connections.

Moving Away from the Engineering & Design Process

In STEAM I developed projects that hit on 4 main areas:  coding, robotics, circuitry and the Engineering & Desing process. There are a lot of different ideas about what design thinking looks like, and what the steps in the design process should be.  My STEAM program was elementary K-6 so I decided to use the simple process of Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve.  This past February, I attended PETE&C  where I was fortunate to attend a special session by Kevin Jarrett, “EMPOWERING LEARNERS TO CHANGE THE(IR) WORLD WITH HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN THINKING”.   In this session, Kevin pointed out that simply teaching the Engineering & Desing process doesn’t create authentic learning experiences.  We can get our students to dig digger, and create more meaningful learning experiences through Human-Centered Design.  The big difference between Human-Centered Design and the basic Engineering & Design Process is that Human-Centered Design focuses on solving real-world problems that people have.

Human-Centered Design Leads to Inquiry

By focusing on Human-Centered Design in STEAM, students will be thinking about real-world problems.  This will tap into their curiosities and they will develop Driving Questions to investigate. They will be thinking about real problems, and thinking critically and working collaboratively to solve these problems.  Students will be making a difference in their community, honing their 21st Century learning skills, and experiencing more meaningful learning.  I personally, want to learn more about implementing Human-Centered Design in my classroom.  I believe that Human-Centered Designs leas to inquiry in a natural way.

Have you utilized Human-Centered Design in your classroom?  Tell me about an authentic learning experience your students had by leaving me a comment!

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