Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

STEM(+) for Good – Making Project Based Learning Authentic

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Project based learning (#PBL) is great. It’s engaging and makes learning math, technology, science, and engineering, a.k.a. STEM(+) tangible. But when projects address REAL problems that students, communities, and governments around the world care about, then #PBL becomes authentic, relevant, and an important force for good.


I call this “STEM(+) for Good”. Examples are included at the end of this article...


[students from the Thinking Global, Acting Local project]


This is not a new idea, really. I’ve even provided many great examples of projects and programs at the end of this article. I am simply trying to change the conversation we are having about #STEM education and bring “STEM(+) for Good” into the #edreform dialog.


Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that robotics projects aren’t great. I just think that #STEM education needs an “and” strategy that captures the imagination and raises the STEM(+) competency of ALL our students. Likewise, accountability needs an “and” strategy that does more than simply focus on preparing students for the next high-stakes exam. We need to be sure to measure what matters, including whether students can face big and important challenges in real life.


If we’re serious about so called “21st Century Skills”, then focusing on “STEM(+) for Good” may be a key ingredient for our students’ success, in and beyond school. After all, high tech companies are not looking to hire students who only know how to solve the “problems at the end of the chapter”. Corporations and communities need graduates who can think, create, and innovate. #STEM(+) sStudents who are ready to solve REAL problems – those that have yet to be solved, or even questions that have yet to be asked – are the students who are most prepared and will be most sought after.


As Gavin Dykes (@gavindk) reminds me time and again, our students are our great untapped resource. The challenges facing communities and countries around the world are too enormous, important, and urgent to NOT engage our students in addressing those needs.


Let’s open the floodgates of passion and talent in our students, and invite them to use “STEM(+) for Good”…



(This is a very incomplete list – please comment with your additions!)



  • GeoTECH Center & Del Mar College  – a geospatial STEM(+) project that arms high school students with GIS technologies to tackle challenges such as identifying immunization issues in low income communities and helping an environmental non-profit deal with invasive species remediation








  • Learning Links Foundation - Working to empower young students from rural India who are studying scientific and technical subjects that can help improve community living conditions. Their project aims to equip youth with the entrepreneurial skills needed to design innovative business plans to tackle socio-economic challenges. [JV: I call this “turning students into STEM-preneurs”]


  • TakingITglobal – Using “… the power of online community to facilitate global education, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement for millions of youth worldwide.



  • Center for Digital Inclusion – Teaches students to use ICT to “…transform lives and strengthen low-income communities by empowering people with information and communication technology… as a medium to fight poverty, stimulate entrepreneurship and create a new generation of changemakers. Projects like “Apps for Good” for secondary students (UK) and a new project in Brazil.


Know of other projects or programs that are helpings students learn how to use “STEM(+) for Good”? If so, please leave a comment and tell us all about it!









Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation

Follow me on Twitter @jgvanides


Dr Angela Kremers(anon) | ‎05-02-2012 05:50 PM

The EAST Initiative is a non-profit education model that provides new ways of learning for modern students. EAST is located in over 200 public middle and high schools in six states. Students engage in PBL through use of cutting-edge technology to solve real world problems. EAST students learn 21st Century Skills for STEM careers. Students are engaged and motivated to learn and think innovatively through access to state-of-the-art work stations, GIS/GPS, 3D animation suites, architectural and CAD design software, augmented reality development, and more. Education technology professional development for teachers and technology training for students is an important component to enhance use of technology in the classroom. It is not enough to provide the technology--professional development and training in how to use it and apply it is the critical piece of the puzzle. The other key  piece is to make learning connect to the real world and solving a real issue or problem.  

rahul seo(anon) | ‎11-29-2012 12:01 PM

Hm,you are right.Good info

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About the Author
Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is...
About the Author(s)
  • A former K-12 district administrator and adjunct professor of communication, Elliott has won over 60 state and national awards in school public relations, is a past columnist for Electronic School, School Administrator and American School Boards Journal, and has been interviewed for many leading educational publications. Recently, Elliott helped developed models for personal learning, which in testing increased successful completion of algebra from 33% to 71% versus traditional classroom instruction. His work is featured by HP at www.hp.com/makeitmatter
  • I am part of the HP Calculator team, working on the HP Prime graphing calculator. I taught mathematics for 20 years and have extensive experience in the professional development of teachers of mathematics. My area of interest is mathematics education; specifically, how technology affects the teaching and learning of mathematics.
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
  • Mike is a passionate education advocate dedicated to helping schools design, build and deliver solutions that solve the complex instructional challenges that face K12 leaders every day. Mike is interested in working with individuals and organizations that share the same level of commitment to improving Instructional outcomes with and through the use of technology

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