by Catherine Meharchand
My children do a lot of “projects” at school. I say this with a hint of sarcasm because this usually means their teachers hand them a sheet of paper with a list of tasks and a deadline. Most of the time they are required to read something then draw a picture and write a paragraph about it. Sometimes they are required to create a newspaper article, or a brochure, or a poster, which seems to indicate that the assignment is more than just words on paper. I don’t see how this type of “project” teaches my children much more than how to use a word processor.
My kids have a hard time telling me what they are learning each day because they are not engaged in what’s being taught at them. They sit in class day after day listening to a teacher talk about this subject and that subject. They fill out the same old worksheets and write the same old book reports. They retain very little of what they learn because the curriculum is static and frankly, boring. Sure, my kids get good grades and their standardized test scores are high, but these measures don’t tell me anything about my kids’ ability to translate what they learn into meaningful action - something more than a book report or worksheet. I’m concerned that my children are not learning the practical skills they will need to succeed in an increasingly competitive job market - critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and the ability to do.
When my kids were toddlers they didn’t have the skills to ask questions or comprehend the answers, and they certainly didn’t have the attention span to sit for several hours while an adult talked at them. Their only option was to try things out and observe what happened. In just a few years they absorbed an enormous amount of information about the world around them by doing, and they will retain much of this information for the rest of their lives. As parents, we encourage our toddlers to educate themselves through discovery, so why is it that once kids get to grade school we suddenly tell them to sit still and listen instead?
Enter Project Based Learning. When I first learned about PBL I felt as though someone had heard all my concerns for my children’s future then designed a learning system that would address all of them. PBL teachers engage kids in their own education by encouraging them to do. PBL kids learn how to manage, problem solve, think critically and work in teams - all skills they will need when they get to the workforce. In a PBL classroom kids learn by doing what has come naturally to them since the day they were born.
William Butler Yeats said “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I think the PBL model embraces this ideal in the best possible way. My kids don’t want to sit in a classroom and be filled with facts and figures. They are eager to work for knowledge that is meaningful to them. Just like when they were toddlers, they are driven by their very nature to explore and discover and the knowledge they gain from these endeavors will stay with them far longer than anything they fill out on a worksheet. It’s time for more schools to leverage what comes naturally to kids and develop curriculum that let them learn by doing.