Slow News Day at the Huffington Post, Dept.

Well, the Huffington Post wrote a headline that I think covers all the bases: “The Future of Learning: Project-based, Place-based, Experiential, Authentic, Constructivism”

This article is a paean to bad educational practices. “Real world” problems. Just get kids together with a real problem and they’ll learn what they need to learn to solve it. Sounds nice, and those that practice it find ways to make it seem like it’s working. Many parents know better. So do many teachers, but given that they want to keep their jobs, they keep their mouths shut.

“It all starts with a problem—a real problem like saving ocean species, global warming or the dangers of using plastic bags.

“As students get into exploring the depth of the problem and identifying possible solutions, they research the problem, interview experts, and present results in concise, highly readable and visual forms demonstrating their abilities to communicate. They are engaged, learning skills, gaining the knowledge and expertise the workforce is looking for. It totally changes how they learn and the teachers teach. As Ben Johnson, a career educator, put it for the educational website Edutopia:

” “Great teachers do not teach. They stack the deck so that students have a reason to learn and in the process can’t help but learn mainly by teaching themselves. This knowledge then becomes permanent and cherished rather than illusory and irrelevant.”

So there you have it. Any kind of educational practice other than constructivist, project-based, student-centered, inquiry-based BS is “illusory and irrelevant”.

And why is it that parents pay for Kumon, Huntington, Sylvan and other learning centers, as well as tutors, that use the illusory and irrelevant approach? Could it be because it works?


5 thoughts on “Slow News Day at the Huffington Post, Dept.

  1. It’s written by John Eger, a Professor of Creativity and Innovation. This points to a common fundamental failure of argumentation. “It’s all about me.” It would be one thing if he offered these schools as some sort of PBL choice that seems to work for some kids, but he falls into the trap of claiming a best solution, as if all of those other traditionally-taught students admitted to the best colleges are somehow lacking. Then he points to the Da Vinci Schools, which includes Da Vinci Science that says “:

    “Da Vinci Science students take a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum that is integrated with hands-on, real-world learning and career pathway classes that focus on the knowledge and skill sets needed for 21st century jobs.”

    This is a “college preparatory curriculum” of traditional math and science courses that happens to include “Project Lead The Way” classes to provide the PBL learning. However, PLTW is neither necessary or sufficient. Most students targeting a STEM degree in a good college do not have time for those courses, and colleges don’t care one way or the other. It’s different for after-school programs like math and science Olympiads or robotics competitions, but PBL advocates seem to have this deep ambition to define PBL as the primary tool of classroom education. It’s a turf battle for them that they can’t seem to let go of because “it’s all about me.” PBL has been around for a long time. Kids do science projects in grade school and most high schools have after-school clubs and competitions. They just want to drive education from classroom PBL top-down rather than traditional classroom classes bottom-up to after-school PBL. With PLTW, they use up class slots rather than after school time, thereby eliminating other options like music, art or other classes that might provide a more liberal (and less vocational) education. Most good students don’t have time for PLTW.

    The goal of PBL enthusiasts, however, is to take over the classroom, but even Da Vinci Science has to admit the need of a “college preparatory curriculum.” And, if you read the details of PLTW, they have to cover themselves by telling their students that their regular math and science courses are very important. In fact, those classes are required and PLTW is optional. Besides, nobody has shown that any engagement in PLTW classes creates success in those required traditional math classes. PBL might be good for bottom-up, after-school engagement, but we’ve had that forever. So, what’s the problem for them? Academic turf and importance..


  2. ANythng that detracts from accountability in education is in vogue these days. PBL fits in nicely and supports this narrative. Parents are on their own if they want to ensure their kids obtain a decent education. The school system is broken.


    • Accountability. Exactly!

      All it takes is engagement and natural learning. They want to trust the spiral and the PBL and then blame peers, parents, society, lack of money, and even IQ for lack of success. Never mind that many parents who know better push and enforce basic skills at home, even for their math brain kids. When other kids don’t do well or don’t make the non-linear transition to the rigors of high school honors and AP classes, they even blame themselves.


  3. I also don’t like their meme of PBL as the main path of innovation and creativity, as if all of those other traditional classes just create robot students with rote skills and mere facts. That’s just a self-serving lie. They claim that they love the balance between skills and understanding, but they get it completely backwards. Traditional classes and homework skills lead to increasing levels of understanding and offer opportunities for after-school clubs and competitions. PBL classes using hands-on projects do not drive or ensure a broad set of basic skills and full understandings, and they don’t even offer after-school skills clubs. As Barry likes to say, the skills are “Just In Time” and narrow. Students “hack” to get projects done, but they have to re-invent the wheel and few of those skills are general enough to carry over to the next project. It’s vocational tech school learning. When MIT students (who didn’t get there from PBL high tech high) “hacked” the Green Building to turn it into a full size Tetris game, that hacking was built on top of an enormous base of traditional learning – not the other way around. Instead of pushing for good after-school programs for PBL that are built upon traditional skills (we already have many after-school clubs and competitions), those advocates are determined to show that PBL is the main top-down engagement vehicle of true learning and creativity.


    Even Da Vinci Science and PLTW know the truth. Some may want to use their electives for PLTW engagement classes, but that’s neither necessary or sufficient – even for innovation and creativity.


  4. This knowledge then becomes permanent and cherished rather than illusory and irrelevant.

    Any teacher of any time in a classroom will tell you that teaching kids stuff is easy. It is making them remember it that is hard.

    This is why project and constructivist techniques don’t work in the real world. They may (may) feel more relevant, but they don’t give the solid base of practice and routine that is required for proper learning. Which student is going to do multiple repetitions of quadratic factorising as part of a project? Yet that is what many students need if it is to become, properly, learned. Learned as in available for recall years later, not this “I understand this” learned. Worse, students learn best by repeated exposure over time, so the student has to do those repetitions spaced out over a month or two, a pattern that is not possible with projects.


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