This post is by Jeff Robin, Art Teacher, High Tech High
When I was 17, I worked for a construction company. At 7 a.m. the first day, they told me to take the big truck to the lumberyard, buy 300 2x4’s, eight feet long, bring them to an address, and take them up to an office on the third floor. I hopped into the truck and learned to drive stick in two or three blocks. I got to the lumberyard, loaded the truck and drove to the address.
It took me three hours to haul 300 2x4’s up three flights of steps. They were heavy and cumbersome. When my boss got there at noon, he said to me, “Hey, you should have gotten dry 2x4’s, they are much lighter and would have been easier to carry up the stairs.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” He replied, “Well, you’ll never do that again.” At the time I was angry. I thought they did not need to do that to me, but probably the guys who had my job before, and even my boss, had learned that way, by doing, critiquing, and revising.
Educators: When in your life did you learn by doing? When have you not retained what you were supposed to know? How many times did you zone out at school, and how many times have you been to an in-service and sat looking at a binder while someone read aloud what your employer did not trust you would read?
We need to stop thinking, “I want everyone to know this same information, so I’ll give a lecture and then a quiz to see who was paying attention.” In that situation all you learn is who already knew the information or who is good at taking tests. Lectures are not the most effective way of teaching--they’re just the easiest way for the lecturers to feel like they have done their job.
Doing, making, reflecting, and revising is how people really learn. The world of work is project-based. Schools are not. That needs to change. Deeper learning--the kind that most often happens outside the core curriculum--requires that teachers set up authentic situations where people learn by doing. Decide what you want students to learn. Figure out what they might do to learn this, and do it yourself first to make sure that your plan really works. Consult with students about your design. Then have them do the project, reflect on what they have learned, and present their findings and their new understandings.
As my wife says, “It is easier to talk about project-based learning than to do it.” I think she was referring to all of these people speaking all over the world about PBL, but who, when they were in the classroom, had not quite arrived.
In the doing of it, there are so many aspects to consider: planning, management, exhibition, student voice and choice, collaboration, equity in the classroom, support for struggling learners, and many more. The people who do this well are the ones who always reflect on the last project, not the ones who blindly do the same project over and over again, making the same mistakes and calling it tradition. They are also people who, like my boss at my first job, are ready to let their students figure things out for themselves.
Photo by Masa.
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