Monday, February 3, 2014

Project-based Learning - The Challenge to Getting There

I have become interested in the concepts behind project-based learning, or problem-based learning. Some people use the terms interchangeably, while others object to doing so. I don't want to get into that semantic debate. For me, the simple point is that anything that gets us away from the traditional model of dumping a bunch of information on kids to have them later regurgitate that information back to us on a test is a good thing.

It might be messy and imperfect. There even may be some pedagogical flaws along the way, but the need to approach instruction from a more learner-centered, discovery-oriented, critical, questioning manner is so apparent in our present day. Having kids memorize a bunch of content for their brains to recall in the short-term and then dump so it can move on to the next load of content just won't cut it anymore. (And btw, make no mistake, that is what our brains do.) Students can access that kind of information at the click of a mouse.

But what they can't do in an instant is reflect, problem-solve, manipulate data, and struggle with concepts. These things take time and interaction, and should be the focus of schooling.

The problem is that we know these things have to change, but teachers often feel trapped in an outdated system with outdated metrics. Many teachers would like to transform their classroom practices, but they don't feel they have the freedom to do something new. At least, this is my perception.

I wonder if most teachers feel this way. I would love to better understand the dilemma that teachers face as they attempt to do what is best for kids.

Teachers are left disillusioned and frustrated. 

How can we change the system to encourage, not discourage, risk-taking, innovation, and learner engagement?

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