I invite you to click on the accompanying link from the Teaching Channel and observe how NYC Poet, Taylor Mali, has captured the essence of Project Based Learning (PBL) in his poem titled “In My Middle School.” His spoken verse tells listeners that in his school, ‘there is no 7th grade. It’s been replaced with a year of law school for 13 year olds. Because that’s what they’re really good at, arguing for justice.’ Students in this grade study forensics and Spanish for law enforcement. Guest speakers are lawyers and police officers. He goes on to tell us that 6th grade has been “replaced by a year of business for 12 year olds.” In math, they study interest rates and create spreadsheets. Science is about research and development, and English class is a place where young minds develop business plans. Hot dog venders and entrepreneurs are invited as guest speakers to promote student inquiry. Continue listening to the poem, and you will hear about 8th grade “medical students” taking the temperatures of their peers and 5th grade artists who practice yoga in physical education class, all images that might appear in the Project-Based Learning classroom.
Mr. Mali concludes the poem by referring once again to this dream school: ”It doesn’t exist yet, but I’m working on it, and I could use your help.” How might we connect Mali’s vision to the engagement that is so necessary in our schools? It seems as if we have already found one such pathway: Project- Based Learning is a vehicle that we employ as we collaboratively creep closer to Mali’s depiction of teaching and learning. Perhaps this authentic and experiential classroom can exist when we facilitate student engagement with significant content, while promoting the spirit of in-depth inquiry.
Perhaps then, we too may enthusiastically and confidently complete the statement, “In our school…”, because we will know that such a place does indeed exist!