As the new school year starts, there is value in asking all of our middle and high school students (at least) to think about something most will have heard of, but not thought about very deeply. Why? Because ultimately, education is about looking more deeply at the world around us, asking the critical questions, not simply accepting what is being presented, and creating new knowledge.
When a teacher, school or district tells parents, "We're going to do project-based learning," the response may vary. You're lucky if some say, "Great news! Students need to be taught differently these days!" But a more typical response might be:
What's project-based learning?
That's not how I was taught. Why do we need PBL if (a) our school is already doing well, or (b) what we really need is a better literacy/math program to raise test scores?
Isn't that just a trendy new thing that doesn't really work?
Getting ready for the new school year can feel like preparing for a race. Anticipation of that opening bell gets hearts beating faster for students, teachers, and parents alike. Alarm clocks that have been quiet all summer are now screaming for attention. Between shopping for back-to-school supplies, navigating new schedules, setting up your classroom, and packing lunches, there's little time to think about where you're heading in such a hurry.
Over the summer, you've spent some time planning what you think will be a great project for the beginning of the school year. You're eager to launch it on Day Two, after you've introduced yourself to your students on Day One. Or should you wait until, say, Week Two, Three, or even later to start the project?
Let's have an honest conversation on the issue of coverage. Whenever I work with teachers, I always hear the genuine concern about coverage of material. And it's true -- most teachers, based on structures beyond their control, are forced to cover a lot of material in the year.
Teachers making the shift to more student-centered classrooms sometimes feel like explorers, navigating uncharted territory. Just ask Shelley Wright @wrightsroom, a veteran educator from Saskatchewan, Canada. On her "Wrights room" blog, she shares the questions that she and her students wrestle with as they engage in project-based learning. Those questions are particularly challenging when students explore issues of social justice.
When a student comes to you and asks, "Can you teach me how to make bacon?", the only response is to start immediately. When you work at a competency-based school, your second response is, "And we'll turn it into a chemistry credit!"
The New Tech Network includes more than 100 schools in diverse settings that put project-based learning at the center of instruction. That's all true, but it doesn't begin to tell the story of what makes learning "electric." That's how one educator from this network describes project experiences that ignite students' curiosity and build their agency to tackle challenging work.
What's the best cure for the summertime blues? How about outdoor education? The backyard or local park are great places to soak up the sun and dive into a citizen science project or a quick environmental ed lesson. So if you know someone suffering from summer boredom, here are some hands-on, DIY outdoor education ideas that are great for kids.