The other thing that is going to have to be changed with project based learning – or more student exploration type learning – is the size of school curriculum.
It’s going to have to be cut.
I am constantly told by administrators and teachers that the current curriculum is too broad and too specific to adequately teach in a school year.
And yet we keep teaching it.
We give it to the kids like water out of a fire hose. They stay up late to do homework, and when they miss school for any reason (including illness) it knocks them to the ground.
Why are we making children pay for our own insecurities, for adults’ inability to decide what’s important? It’s time for us to be adults and make a decision about how much our children really need to learn. What are the basics and what is an extension on that learning that is optional? Adults have to make those decisions.
If you’re going to go in depth – really take the time to question and explore – you can’t cover as much breadth.
And when kids learn or do projects independently, they’re not all going to learn the same information. For example, if the subject is democracy, one student might interested in Marie Antoinette and get caught up in learning about how democracy was obtained in France, while another might be fascinated about WWII flying aces and learn about the path to democracy in Japan.
Which means we aren’t going to be able to give them all standardized tests over the same material (except the basics.)
Which means (horrors!), we aren’t going to be able to measure them against each other.
You see what I did there? I came back to grades. It’s all connected.
It may seem like I’m trying to say that this will be easy. Change how we think about grades, restructure and change how we teach projects, and cut the school curriculum so you can go into more depth and every thing will work. But it is really difficult to change people’s minds about the way we’ve been teaching for over a hundred years. It’s really hard to change attitudes in a district, from the students, to the parents, to the teachers.
In our district they did do a school-wide trial of project based learning at the middle school level which was mostly unsuccessful. And the reasons for the failure were all of the things that need to change – attitude toward grades, group project dynamics, and trying to keep up with a massive curriculum.
It started out well, even though kids freaked out over not knowing exactly what they were supposed to do and exactly what they going to be graded on. (Even though, as I understand it, the teachers were told by administrators that a grade wasn’t mandatory.) Our own kid was a little panicked initial – “They didn’t tell us exactly what we’re supposed to do!” – but I knew enough about why they were trying this, and have been decreasing the emphasis on grades enough, that I was able to counter-act her panic at least somewhat.
For awhile it still looked promising; we saw a blessed relief from homework. But when it came to the end, teachers sent home four different projects to be finished as homework, saying that they had to get back to the curriculum to “stay on track.” And the project presentation night was scheduled on a day that our daughter already had two contests for school events scheduled and a high school preparation meeting. (One middle school contest during the school day – and yes she had makeup work – and one contest after school for high school placement on a team.) And I wasn’t able to attend the group projects presentation either, because I was at a meeting to find out about her freshman dual credit options. (Student attendance was encouraged but optional, but obviously my daughter was elsewhere.)
So in the end, the experiment failed from our perspective. But in order to improve, both adults and students are going to have to get used to that. Expecting ingrained attitudes to change overnight and for this first trial to go smoothly is as misguided as expecting our children to all make A’s on all their tests.
When our school system is already failing, we have no other options but to try something new.
To learn how to fail.
And to learn from failure.
I’ll wrap up this series with why we so desperately need to change our schools and resources to learn more about Most Likely to Succeed.
More articles in this series and review of Most Likely to Succeed
- Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Review and Discussion – Part 1/11
- I hate school – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 2/11 Does your kid hate school? Do kids they really hate it because they have to work hard and they are lazy, or is there another reason?
- How important is doing well in school to success? – Most Likely to Succeed Part 3/11 Have you told your kid that it’s for important so they can get a good job? How important is doing well in school to success?
- We don’t need human calculators, so why are we training them? – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 4/11 Our education system was designed to train workers for jobs that are being replaced by machines. It’s outdated.
- Fear of Failure in Education – Most Likely to Succeed Part 5/11 Schools are as much afraid of failing the test as students are, in spite of it not being a guarantee of success.
- High Tech High – Most Likely to Succeed Part 6/11 In search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests – High Tech High.
- Project Based Learning – Most Likely to Succeed Part 7/11 Most Likely to Succeed presents the best solution I’ve seen to the problems of run-away tests and hours of homework – project based learning.
- Grades – What are they for? Most Likely to Succeed Part 8/11 What do student grades mean? Are they a measure for improving learning? Or a way to rank kids against each other so we can identify the “best” kids?
- The problems with group projects – Most Likely to Succeed Part 9/11 For group projects like those portrayed at High Tech High in Most Likely to Succeed, schools will have to structure, teach and grade projects differently.
- Cut the School Curriculum – Most Likely to Succeed Part 10/11 To change learning to be more in-depth the way it is presented in Most Likely to Succeed, we’re going to have to cut the school curriculum.
- Most Likely to Succeed – Learn more Part 11/11 Change the antiquated structure of education to prepare students for jobs and create happier, healthier, more creative individuals.