“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question. And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?
Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.
Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.
Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”
No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.
This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar. Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.” As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.
One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition. With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.
Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.