Friday, June 01, 2007

Project Based Learning

Researching Colonial Houses 10 yr olds

Will students will become more 'engaged' because of the school setting narrow literacy and numeracy 'targets' - not a chance. Will introducing computers help - if not used properly, not a a chance. Currently these seem to be the two 'silver bullets' school are focusing on.

If students are to develop as critical thinkers, able to work collaboratively and to make use of their individual talents, schools will need to be transformed. An approach based on developing schools into 'communities of inquiry' generated by researching 'rich real and challenging' studies, or projects is a viable alternative

The development of schools as 'inquiry communities' will require an appropriate use of literacy and numeracy, and as well utilize the, as yet untapped learning power, of modern information technology.

From birth learning is about making meaning. It is driven by curiosity and a need to know - that is until these drives are blocked by imposed, if well meaning, fragmented school programmes.

And it is not that we are short of ideas about how to keep this desire to learn alive. Creative teachers have aways known the 'secret' : work with the students interests; challenge them to extend themselves; and amplify whatever talents they have. John Dewey wrote about this at the beginning of the last century! One wonders who exactly are the slow learners!

Project based learning sees students as workers solving deep, and often complex, projects; where the process is as important as the outcome - and where the outcomes cannot be pre-determined.

Teachers, as 'learning advisers', will be even more important than in traditional classrooms. They will need assist students by establishing positive relationships and conditions, and by valuing students' questions and prior ideas.They will need to become skilled in working alongside their students, negotiating tasks and criteria, and most of all allowing students to do their own learning. They will need to become skilled at: providing feedback; introducing skills and strategies as required; and protecting each students individuality and creativity. This calls for a 'personalised' rather than a 'one size fits all' approach. Teachers will need to develop programmes that 'mimic' the reality of the modern work force.

Project based learning also encourages students to see connections between learning areas ( or subject disciplines) where all new knowledge is created. It also encourages students to utilize, as appropriate, a full range of expressive and information media. This is a 'just in time ' curriculum not a 'just in case' one and requires a demanding role for teachers. Not only must teachers also collaborate ( modeling learning to their students) but, whatever depth of knowledge they have, will be a valuable resource.

Literacy and numeracy will need to be seen as important 'foundation skills' required for such projects to be carried out. Perhaps the ideal test, or 'target', would be for every student, at least once a year, be asked to complete a self chosen study for themselves.These projects to be assessed ( by means of a culminating presentation, demonstration, or performance) to see how well students have developed as independent learners. Such assessments would show the teacher what skills are not yet in place. Teachers, in this environment, should 'teach' to the test' to ensure such skills are in place.

If this approach were adopted then what would be observed, when visiting a school, would be an entirely different picture than the current obsession on literacy and numeracy. Rather than students working half heartedly, completing teacher designed literacy and maths tasks, and undertaking low level content studies, one would see students actively working in teams exploring their passions and talents in an environment that celebrates and reflects the full range of their accomplishments.

What our 21stC students need , if they are to thrive in the future, is a healthy skepticism, an openness to experience, and the inquiry and expressive skills to gain the true satisfaction of doing things well, as well as a desire to reflect on and continue their learning journeys.

An excellent site for teachers to gain practical examples of project based learning George Lucas's ( of 'Starwars' fame) website edutopia.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the genesis of true 21st century schools or learning communities. Aslo a excellent site you mentioned - Edutopia

Anonymous said...

A simple idea but far too difficult to implement by those who have invested their careers propping up the outdated system that pays them!