Professional Learning

Balancing Life Skills with Academics

May 8, 2009

In my last blog entry, I talked about project learning at Envision Schools, and the ways kids are motivated to master difficult subjects by interacting with peers in an interdisciplinary environment and tackling real-world issues.

That's not to say that life skills should always take center stage in the classroom. For example, writing a résumé in English class does not warrant a large investment of class time, nor does studying the history of the car in a social studies classroom. Although these subjects are relevant to the real lives of students, they should be viewed as springboards into more rigorous study.

Let's take a closer look at the car for a moment: At Envision Schools, students study world history at the time the car was invented by examining the Gilded Age and the events leading up to the Industrial Revolution. We use project learning to study these events in three classes: history, English, and digital media art.

Each student must do a historical analysis of these two important milestones, read a book on colonialism, and write a research paper.

The students then form groups where they study a particular country before World War I, as well as create a Ken Burns-style multimedia documentary with photographs from that country during that era.

Finally, the groups attend a mock world conference where they show their documentary, present what they've learned about each country, and defend the content. As a culminating requirement for the semester, each student must also defend his or her work individually before an audience of parents and peers.

As educators, we must help our students not only master academic content but also acquire the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for success in the global economy. These are the kinds of real-life skills that students will need in the 21st century.

What projects have your students accomplished where they acquired both life skills and academic content?

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