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Project-Based Learning: Schools in Action

Project-Based Learning: Schools in Action

NASCAR's program for grade 5-7 offers new ways to teach science. 

In November 2014, some of the eighth-grade students at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were spending the school day building an online radio station. It was part of a program that had them exploring scientific principles through a shared project that excited students about STEM, whether they were budding DJs or not. The project also met curriculum requirements and helped students master a few life skills.

“The Roosevelt Option,” an initiative of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, meant that Roosevelt’s eighth graders would work on projects—such as the radio station—or fulfill a class’s requirements online rather than adhering to a more rigid, conventional curriculum. The initiative was a big success, and so was a similarly framed high school counterpart called Iowa BIG. Both programs showed that “participating students were more engaged and in some cases more academically successful than their peers,” reported The Gazette in 2015.

Elsewhere, a program in Georgia has students building a street-legal car. Ford Motor Company donated a replica of a 51-year-old sports car in the form of parts that arrived in 30 separate boxes. Students will get to work on building it from the bottom up. It’s part of DeKalb County School District’s efforts to broaden its schools’ STEM curriculum, a plan that currently includes 96 schools. And what better way is there to do that than with a hands-on approach?

“There are different ways to inspire students to learn, especially those who may not be learners in the traditional manner,” DeKalb superintendent R. Stephen Green told Scholastic EduPulse blog in April.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) hopes to expand STEM education with two project-based units that bring interactive, real-world activities into the classroom while delving into aerodynamics concepts and the properties of energy.

The company’s youth platform, NASCAR Acceleration Nation, features the Get to Know the Science of Speed classroom program for grades 5–7. The program’s free 28-page teaching guide employs the STEM connections involved in NASCAR racing to engage students, who are tasked with applying scientific principles in solving realistic problems. Teachers surveyed about the program have already praised its engaging content as well as the fact that it “explain[s] science concepts in a relatable, hands-on way.”

The Get to Know the Science of Speed teaching guide offers lesson plans that comprise two rich units: an aerodynamics unit and one that’s focused on energy. There are worksheets, resource sheets, hands-on experiments, and more. The robust online hub at scholastic.com/nascarspeed offers a vibrant classroom poster and video resources that drive excitement in critical STEM concepts and skills that can easily be applied to science standards. Most important, these materials directly involve students in science by packaging core concepts in a project-based program that’s interactive and interesting.

“If you build the excitement and relevance on the front end, then you can introduce content-rich material,” says DeKalb County’s R. Stephen Green. “But if you start with algorithms and the Pythagorean theorem, some students have lost interest from the very beginning.”


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.