#8: What is project-based learning?

It’s the best time in history to learn anything! There are more resources and more supports than ever before. Of course, learning can be complicated. This week, Andrew explains the core principles of project-based learning. At The Workshop, projects are, well, just about everything.

In Beginning to Read, Marilyn Jager Adams compares cognitive reading processes to the mechanical system in an automobile. Individual parts in a machine, she explains, have specific tasks. For example, the spark plug ignites a car engine, and the steering column directs the wheels of a car to turn. In the same way, she writes, specific systems in the brain direct specific reading processes. “Within this analogy,” Adams writes, “print is like gas. The engine and the mechanics of the car are the perceptual and conceptual machinery that make the [reading] system go.”

Of course, the analogy is not only limited to reading constructs. Learning is a complex and intensive process. Numerous cognitive systems that help us identify, describe, or understand new ideas and information. And, generally speaking, the machine works! We are able to learn complex concepts or skill with facility.

When teachers present information with clarity and focus, students can quickly memorize or master target content and skills. For example, charter school networks trump year-to-year learning scores that students achieve on narrow standardized exams. Of course, the major problem is that when students learn without context, interest, or purpose, they rarely remember what they’ve quickly learned.

Education is most effective when we are driving our car with purpose. And when we learn information in isolation, we’re operating only a single information system. The pistons are firing, but there’s no engine. No radiator. No ignition. To really learn something, we need to connect systems and structures together. At The Workshop, projects are the gas that make learning cars go!

Project based learning helps students place important learning in context of their ideas, interests, and understandings — which helps us apply information to new and different contexts. Because real learning is learning transfer: the ability to transfer content and skills to new and different contexts.

At The Workshop, all of our learning is driven by immersive and collaborative learning projects. This means that students learn advanced academic concepts and skills in the context of authentic, practical challenges. Key elements of project-based learning include:

1) Learning is organized by a larger project or learning challenge. For example, when students work on the Science Fair, they are working on a larger project that helps them learn underlying scientific principles.

2) Students work on a project for extended period of time. For example, when students draft and publish a memoir or short fiction narrative, they work to develop and advance their writing over several weeks.

3) Units of study should investigate complex ideas and questions. Project based learning should inspire deeper learning: complex content, advanced skills, and growth habits that support meaningful, sustainable learning.

4) Units of student should promote authentic, practical projects that include content or skills domain specialists use in their practice. Because learning is best applied in real contexts and real situations.

5) The most effective projects emphasize process learning. That is, students develop more advanced understandings in steps and stages. A supported learning process should include inquiry, experimentation, and exhibition. This helps mirror meaningful professional practice.

Source: Deep Learning on Medium