The response at our school district’s showing of Most Likely to Succeed was overwhelmingly positive. The film did a good job of pointing out all the weaknesses of our current system, but left you with an uplifting feeling. This was a welcome change from all of the other research I’ve done that has confirmed my fears that something is drastically wrong with our current educational system, but with little to offer in the way of change other than patching over some real problems.
I think the positive response was also in part to a growing concern I have seen in our district about the amount of homework and anxiety in our kids. Parents did bring up some valid concerns, some of which were answered by other parents present who work for testing agencies, state education agencies, and universities. The concerns were mainly centered on project based learning.
As I said, the documentary gave the impression that project based learning was the only option. Even though it was acknowledged early on in the discussion in our district that it was just one option, the discussion stayed pretty much on project based learning. The long and the short of it is that project based learning is being broadly discussed, at every level including the university level, and should (at least eventually) even align with the needs of standardized testing and changes in college admissions. (There was some debate as to whether or not High Tech High students go on to do well in college without experience in the traditional classroom, but their website reports that 86% are either still in college or have graduated from college.)
And the long and the short (well, actually, it’s going to be the short and then I’m going to give the long) of my conclusion is that this is the best solution I’ve seen to the problem of run-away tests and hours of homework that my kids have been suffering.
In our struggle to reduce the number of hours spent on homework in our family, I’ve noticed that our kids have a hard time just learning the least amount of surface material they can get away with to get the grade and move on. They prefer to understand the material on a deeper level, and that takes time. And then again, some of their homework time is spent on memorizing, a skill which varies for our kids. (One of our kids can memorize very quickly.) Project based learning would help with both of those issues.
But there are three things that are going to have to change for this approach to work. We’re going to have to change how we think about grades, how we do projects (especially group projects), and the size and breadth of the curriculum. I’ll cover those in my next posts.