Project Learning Creates a Win-Win SituationApril 9, 2009 | Bob Lenz
The mere mention of 21st-century skills always seems to elicit lively debate among people who are either for the concept or against it. The conversation about it is a good one to have, but we should move beyond this particular debate and toward an inclusive discussion that helps students win on all sides.
In order to succeed in the 21st-century workforce, students need a curriculum that includes both opportunities to master content and the chance to apply and demonstrate their knowledge. At Envision Schools, we combine rigorous academic content with an applied-learning model known as project learning. It serves to motivate students and increase academic achievement.
Using project learning, we reinforce knowledge from one class in other classes as students acquire new computer skills, learn to work in teams, and gain experience with public speaking. These are the same skills students must demonstrate not only in college but also in life beyond the classroom.
For example, our high school seniors must read Dante's Inferno as well as compose an in-depth literary analysis as a baseline for college-preparatory work. But we don't stop there. We also bring Dante's Inferno into technology, art, and drama classes, where students must work in teams to create an artistic interpretation of one of the levels of hell Dante describes. The entire class must then retell the story, presenting the work in sequential order before an audience of parents and peers.
It's interesting to note that no one in the 21st-century debate is disputing the link between motivation and achievement. Certainly, the prospect of earning an A on a paper can motivate students to master such a difficult book. What I've seen at Envision Schools, however, is that the greatest motivator for students is the opportunity for them to creatively express their understanding through interpretive work for a real audience outside the classroom -- not just a teacher. Students get excited, and this excitement translates into success.
Few public high schools require all their students to read the Inferno. It's a tough read, no doubt. But because our students are highly motivated, they do succeed. At the end of this challenging project, the students have two more pieces to add to their portfolios, which are required for graduation.
Content mastery is only a baseline measurement of whether students are ready for college. Students must also be able to apply what they've learned and articulate their viewpoints.
How has project learning revolutionized your classroom or school? Let's keep the conversation going.