Does 21st century learning demand a renewed attention to inquiry, relevance, and project-based learning, or are these alternate approaches too problematic to adopt wide-scale?
Can the curriculum balance the teaching of core academics and "21st century skills"? If so, how?
As an example of another approach (which might stimulate some conversation) here is a video about, Larry Rosenstock's "High Tech High" which is a high school based on the principles of project based learning...
It was a YouTube video clip, animated, that I saw. I guess it would be good to see what you saw!
Hi Anthony. Thanks for posting. I think Debbie's computer had a glitch, because the link works properly. Anyway, the video reminded me of the following story by George Reavis which was a reading assignment when I got my teaching certificate some time ago. Perhaps you've already read it too...
The Animal School: A Fable
Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.
At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.
Two things struck me about this video: 1) the noise and the mess and 2) the resources being put to use.
One thing that some teachers fear when it comes to project-based learning (and I am guilty of this) is the loss of control. A key ingredient to High Tech High (what a name), it seems, is that students control their use of time in the classroom. It's striking that teachers are virtually invisible in the classroom scenes; they are background features. There seems to be a general acceptance of noise and mess as part of the learning process: mistakes must be made, dead ends must be reached, conflicts must be had before they can be resolved. I imagine this requires a significant amount of work on the teacher's part: setting the right expectations and classroom culture, devising projects that are challenging without being overwhelming, drawing connections between the activity and the core material. This would require, I think, a significant shift in philosophy from the way many of us (including me) teach. In addition to incorporating technology and project-based activities, we would have to adjust the way we think about rigor, about classroom time, about a teacher's role.
The second thing I noticed was the resources being put to use. My classroom and my school do not look like this. At one point our guide in the video said this school was more about "curation than anything else," which speaks to just how much time and resources go into foregrounding student work. Embracing technology in a serious way, it's clear from the video, comes partly from a commitment on the teacher's part to think, teach and assess in new ways, but also comes from a commitment on the school's part to invest in the resources required to create the infrastructure, environment and development programs necessary to both encourage this new kind of thinking and make it easier to realize it.
You're right Eric, about the noise and the mess, and regarding the resources, time is the greatest resource that I believe is needed, even above integration of technology.
The HTH approach is messy and less structured in the sense that (as with negotiated and emerging curricula) the teacher often serves the role of facilitator, and is comfortable enough with her content knowledge that she can guide the inquiry and path that different classes may take. These are not new concepts by any means, though the perspective of a teacher's role shifts. On the Lower School campus, we have teachers in early elementary who regularly practice this approach. The key is to not view the classroom dynamics as noise but rather rigorous engagement and dialog, while managing class norms and expectations give the students latitude for (as you aptly noted) mistakes which must be made, as well as conflicts/resolutions and negotiation to occur. This as you know is where the real learning takes place. Reflecting as a community of teachers and lifelong learners will provide interesting opportunities to discuss how to apply Palfrey's idea of digital natives to best practices and approaches to engage and challenge our students, from accessing information to meaningful assessment of their understanding. It is a dialog to which I look forward.
I was struck by the invitation in the video to recall when I learned best as a student. The project I recalled was instantaneous. I was in a high school humanities class and I don't even remember the actual project or guidelines, what I remember is the whole experience. For me sitting in history class was challenging I couldn't hold on to the dates or why I needed to remember them at all. History seemed to be a series of rulers, wars, and a lot of dates, until this Humanities class. As a teen I would go to museums by myself, I loved art. For this project I shared a series of slides with my class and evoked the history through the art. The presentation was followed by a field trip to The Gardner Museum where I facilitated a tour and used my creative passions to create a museum guide for my peers. It felt great to share this interest with classmates and opened the door for further discussions. I agree with Shera, if we think of ourselves as facilitators and to the planning upfront, we can help the children follow their passions in an emergent way.
Loved the High Tech High video.
A very inspiring piece—not quite sure how one would transition to this model at BB&N but
it was exciting to watch/listen.
Having spent the last couple of years teaching math to remedial-level and grade-level public school students, my greatest challenge was inspiring students’ motivation. It seems fundamentally right to me that more relevant, project-based work creates engagement so I sought to include such work. I felt challenged from three angles: First, I found the remedial-level students wanted (needed? were habituated to?) highly directed learning. These tracked students were actively resistant to more open-ended project-based work. In this regard, I appreciated Larry Rosenstock’s remarks about the benefits of integration of a variety of learners in the classroom. His school’s heterogeneous classes which “reverse the peer effect” seem critical to focused, successful project-based learning.
My second challenge was curricular. As Eric Hudson mentioned “devising projects that are challenging without being overwhelming, drawing connections between the activity and the core material” is a significant undertaking. Seeing few options without a department-based or school-based initiative, I proceeded subversively with the “stick your toe in” method that Dana Frantz Bentley very reasonably cautions against. Suboptimal and exhausting, but many students plugged in for a time.
The third challenge I felt was lack of role models. I wasn’t taught through project-based work (wish I was!) and I can only think of one time I have observed a project-based math class. (Parker school in Boxborough taught a combined math/science project where they studied contour maps of Mount Monadnock, translated these to elevation profiles, researched the alpine ecology and climbed the mountain.) I am all for innovation, but also for sharing resources. I would love to observe successful project-based classes and participate in them as both teacher and student. My life experience is that apprentice-style programs are where most learning occurs – as Rosenstock says: students not just studying math but behaving like mathematicians.