Yet, in most schools – even those considered to be the best – teachers are still asking students to memorize meaningless facts for tests. According to Jay Matthews, education reporter for the Washington Post, a school in my neighborhood is one of the best high schools in the Washington metropolitan area and the United States of America. Jay produces the Challenge Index, “his measure of how effectively a school prepares its students for college.” Students in my neighborhood school spend nearly all of their time listening to teachers lecture. Project-based learning is as rare as hens’ teeth. Unfortunately, my neighborhood high school is the norm, not the exception, when it comes to lecturing versus project-based learning.
As Edutopia puts it, “Solving highly complex problems requires that students have both fundamental skills (reading, writing, and math) and 21st century skills (teamwork, problem solving, research gathering, time management, information synthesizing, utilizing high tech tools).” Those skills aren’t learned by listening to teachers lecture and memorizing facts for tests. They are learned when students are actively engaged in researching, collaborating, solving complex problems and using technological tools. In project-based classrooms, teachers are facilitators of learning, not lecturers.
Organizing project-based learning requires collaborative, engaged, creative and intelligent teachers. They need to work together across disciplines and ensure that content standards are met. Teachers must also be creative in identifying guiding questions that drive the inquiry and the project. Then everyone involved in the project needs to figure out how to integrate their subject area with other disciplines and the overall the project.
For example, suppose we want to answer the question, “How do people express themselves through myths and legends?” Language teachers could facilitate student inquiry through language activities designed to teach students how to utilize the `Writing Process’ to publish their books about myths and legends. Reading comprehension would focus on the study and understanding of myths, legends and fables. The art teacher could incorporate artistic expression by helping students children create illustrations for their books or make puppets that convey mythological characters. The science teacher could focus on studying the role of myths and legends in scientific understanding, while the social studies teacher looks though the lens of history and the role of religion.
Students are highly engaged in learning when it is project- and inquiry-based. As the adage states, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
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