Project-Based Learning…the Way Schools Need to Be


Though I was born on the cusp of the Baby-Boomers and the Gen-X’ers, and technically not considered a digital native, I have been struck by all the platforms of social media of this digital age.   I am a big fan of many social networks (professional and personal) and subscribe to multiple educational E-Newletters and Blogs to keep abreast with what is happening in education and the world.  I depend on these new technologies to do my work and rely on many as my main “sources” of information.  For many of us my age and younger, gone are the days of stopping everything so we can watch the evening news and/or subscribing to a daily newspaper.  At one time, these types of media were our main “sources” of information.  Some have evolved and adapted over time and some have slowly faded away.

This is an important point to take away as educators.   We have to continue to ask ourselves: Are we preparing children for their future or our past?  This blog post was inspired by 4 different videos and articles that I have referenced below.  All of them have an underlying theme of school reform and change.   I found the themes aligned well with my thinking along with the 8 Essentials of Project-Based Learning.  There is agreement that the biggest paradigm that needs to shift in education is the fact that teachers are no longer “the source” of learning.  Like the newspaper that technically tells us yesterday’s news, students in the digital age have multiple platforms to gather information.  Laufenberg mentions how many homes at one time had a set of encyclopedias as a means to having a “source” of information inside the home.  How many of us use those encyclopedias now?

Times have changed so dramatically and teachers can no longer see themselves as the prime source of information.  The current generations of students who we are now teaching do not know a time without SmartPhones, iPads, and laptops to access information.  The teacher needs to evolve and adapt to a facilitator of learning and have children learn by doing.  I see Project-Based Learning as how we facilitate learning for the 21st Century Student.  Psychologist Phillip Zimbardo (referenced below) shares some disastrous statistic in America that “every 9 seconds a child drops out of school.”  These statistics are worse for minorities and more for boys than girls.  He cites a recent study that shows that by the time a boy is 21 years old, he will have logged about 10,000 hours playing video games.  This means they are not learning the social/emotional skills needed and live in a world(s) they create digitally.  He hypothesizes that their brains are being digitally rewired, meaning they will never fit into a traditional “analogue” classroom where they control nothing and are passive.  This builds the case for the need for students to be active and interactive in their learning.  Project-Based learning not only teaches and assesses the standards through inquiry but also fosters the 21st century skills of collaborations, communication, critical thinking and creativity and also put them in the driver’s seat of learning.  The teacher shifts from “source” to “project manager” and learns alongside the learner.

Though my 79 year old parents still watch the nightly news and subscribe to a daily newspaper and pay bills using the US Postal Service, they have learned that if they want to communicate with their digital native grandchildren they too had to evolve and adapt to meet them where they are.  They learned quickly that emailing is so yesterday for the digital native.  They have learned how to Skype and text because this is the way this generation communicates.  To stay relevant in the lives of their grandchildren, they had to make that shift, even though it was new and risky.  Teachers too need to make that shift from “source” to “relevant facilitator of learning”.

Referenced videos and articles:

Shaw_PatrickPatrick Shaw-Staff Development Specialist
Certified Trainer for Responsive Classroom®
Trainer for Project-Based Learning for OCM BOCES

2 thoughts on “Project-Based Learning…the Way Schools Need to Be

  1. Great Blog, Patrick. I am sometimes amazed and professionals in the field not realizing they need to shift their paradigm of pedagogy. I look forward to reading those articles.

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