In most classrooms of today, learning and projects are straight up boring. When I was in high school as well as today, projects were very much what the “Main Course, Not the Dessert” article talked about. My experiences with education as a student were vastly different than this idea of project based learning. Teachers created the whole unit ahead of time, students did worksheets and took tests and completed busy work, and at the end a “project” was done to wrap it up, such as a poster or powerpoint. Classrooms of today do not embody project based learning. Tests are given to supposedly ensure that students study and learn the knowledge, but as I found it to be true and as the video pointed out, instead students memorize knowledge just to forget it the second the test is over. I took many AP classes in high school, studied for months for those big tests and passed them, but now I could not tell you much about U.S. history or environmental science or economics and so on.
Tests and busy work run rampant at schools today, and project based learning seeks to combat this ineffective way of teaching and learning. These articles, this video, and our textbook run parallel to what Mitra discussed-students these days are not interested in what they are learning because they did not choose what they want to study, and testing with the standardized way of bubbling in answers creates stress which causes the brain to shut down. This combination creates classrooms full of students that are stressed and uninterested, and I for sure saw this to be true when I was in school.
However, PBL is a completely different but incredible way to teach. I have had experience with PBL, and I have found it to be very effective and fun. The students are the ones who have the questions, so it is harder to plan ahead-which gives us as teachers an actual opportunity to go with what students like and to change up the teaching every year. This creativity is very freeing. However, some may see this inability to plan too far ahead as a disadvantage of PBL.
I had the opportunity to intern with a kindergarten classroom at Explorer Elementary Charter School, the grade school version of High Tech High in San Diego (highlighted in the article that we read the first week). They are a completely project based school, and I got to watch that unfold and see many advantages of PBL. The project that the class worked on when I was there revolved around the body. These students were in Kindergarden, and they were coming up with their own questions about what they wanted to learn about, such as- Why do we have to eat? What happens to your body when you eat unhealthy food? What happens to the food once we eat it? And so on.
The teacher took this inspiration from the students and used it in every area that is covered (math, science, writing, reading, art, etc.). We played farmers market for math, where students would buy vegetables while learning how to use money. They built their own garden, and wrote observations about what they saw. They read stories and books and watched videos about food and our body. They built models of the digestive system for art and science. They broke up into small groups to learn about different body systems, to then teach it to each other. The things that these kindergarteners could do showed me what children, even at 5, are capable of. (If interested, you can view the entire project here.There are also a ton of other projects that the school did if you are interested in seeing more great examples.
The questions asked by these kindergarteners presented real world problems, and demanded that 21st century skills were used as the “Main Course, Not the Desert” article points out:
- critical thinking
- use of technology
These 21st century skills can be elaborated on even more, but without learning these skills it will be hard to become a productive member of society and the education system. As a result of these skills, you have a classroom that cares about what they do every day, and who have crucial and creative ways to solve problems. I am a full supporter of project based learning after what I learned through my internship, as well as through this week’s information.