Project-Based Learning: A Student Comment

Out of the blue last night I received a new comment on a two year old post… and it’s one of my favorite comments in over three years of blogging. In response to a brief post about the U.S. Falling Behind in the Global ‘Brain Race’, an anonymous high-school student left this comment:

I am a high-school student, and I believe we need more project-based learning in our schools. Of all the classes I have taken, I have learned best in those that are interactive. Anybody can read from a textbook, memorize the information, take a test, and forget what they read in a week. American schools are focusing on just that. Students take tests on words, words they found in a book for the sole purpose of testing. They don’t need to learn what the words mean, because they only need that information until the test. Also, I think we need to rethink our testing strategies. Vocab tests are insane. We get fifteen words on Monday and test on Friday. We forget the words over the weekend and get fifteen new words on the next Monday. History is a little harder. Students are required to remember dates and names. I personally only remember what happens, not who made it happen or where. I consider myself a good learner, but I have a good short-term memory, so I have been successful so far. However, if I was asked what happened in World War I, I would be able to tell you it was called the Great War, involved most of Europe, and started in 1914 (I think…). This coming from an A student. In addition, many of my peers are happy with C’s and don’t try to accel in school, so I think the United States of America needs to find a motivational tool to help American students reach their potential and continue to better our economy. -I apologize for the lack of structure in this comment. (My thoughts aren’t always organized.)

Coincidentally, I just recently was involved in leading some Project Based Learning workshops, including a rather bizarre one. And, just this week I received a marketing email from ISTE about the new (Will Richardson endorsed) book, Reinventing Project-Based Learning. I’m glad to be involved with (formal) PBL again, and it’s good to see it’s alive and kicking in our professional circles as well. More importantly, this comment reminds me that it does make a difference and it is well worth the effort. I hope other teachers and educational technologists might find this comment inspiring as well.

Of course, on the other hand, I’ve actually had A students tell me, “you can’t do this to us, Mr. Wagner” when I was using project-based learning. They were not so much concerned about having to learn a new system when they’d adapted well to the old one; they were more concerned that it was not the system their colleges and universities would use. In essence they felt they had to get through the traditional higher education system before learning in a better way!

From another perspective altogther, as much as educational technologists (and edubloggers in particular) have taken issue with the how of our current educational system, I’m finding increasing fault with the what as well. I find myself thinking more about the lack of Financial Literacy in our schools (I’ve only just begun thinking about the intersection of edubloggers and financial literacy) – and about the lack of environmental literacy (or Green Living) in our schools. The last thing we need to do is raise another generation of overconsumers… but more on that in my next post.

2 Responses to “Project-Based Learning: A Student Comment”

  1. Chris Betcher Says:

    Mark, while I agree with pretty much all of your thoughts here, I think there also needs to be a balance… while it’s true that simply remembering facts is a pretty lousy approach to learning generally, there are some personality types for whom that method works quite well. The problem is that school has catered to that learning style/personality style, call it what you will, for a long time, and it has become ingrained as the dominant learning (and teaching style).
    I suspect that a total and complete swing to a PBL, constructivist approach would really suit many students (and teachers, me included), there are sure to be some students for whom that approach is as alienating and frustrating as the rote learning is for the other students.
    As we start to see the pendulum swing away from the old rote style learning and towards a 21st century style of learning, it’s important to keep a focus on the individual learning styles and needs of individual students, and not simply replace the old with the new and in so doing just frustrate a whole different group of kids.

  2. Mark Wagner Says:

    You bring up a good point, Chris. At first I thought you were going to talk about a balance of methods in a general sense. For example my wife is very clearly part traditionalist and part constructivist in the way she runs her Kindergarten classroom. In some cases, such as learning certain early reading or math concepts – or classroom rules – memorization is key. However, she really focuses on allowing students to discover answers to their own problems and there is plenty of learning by doing. I definitely approve of this hybrid approach. I’m also in agreement with what you’re saying about different students’ needs. Even in my research about videogames in education it comes up often in the literature that while the games may engage a new cross section of students for whom traditional school doesn’t seem to work well, the games are certainly not attractive to all students… and even different gamers prefer different genres of games. Remembering and being sensitive to (even taking advantage of) the richness of human diversity will be key to any successful efforts to improve education as we know it.

    -Mark