Tom Bennett, head of ResearchED and ed-behavior czar in UK, nails it in his latest essay, this one on the “effectiveness” of Project Based Learning.
“Rather than learn a subject through the clearly bonkers route of ‘lessons about it’, delivered by a ‘subject specialist’ in an incremental way, students are invited/ empowered/ inspired/ hugged to death to answer a question through self-guided investigation, to create a ‘product’ that could be ‘exhibited.’ It was recommended that this would take 20% -50% of the entire curriculum for one year. Fortunately we have loads of time to spare for this kind of thing in year 7. Wait”
“My experience tells me that these kinds of educational approaches aren’t without value, but frequently work best with the most able, independent and informed students. Those struggling already, behind in content knowledge, dealing with challenging habits, fall further back than they otherwise would in a more structured environment. And if we’re designing schools and syllabus for the real word, that means teaching everyone well, not just a fraction of the lucky sperm club. So until we start finding out that PBL miraculously adds value to the school experience rather than robbing it, I’d give it five minutes if I were you.”
Unfortunately, this advice will fall on deaf ears as schools continue to promote PBL. One compromise is to have a STEAM class that focuses on projects, without it taking up time in classes like math, English, and science. It’s just when the “maker-space” philosophy invades classrooms that I start to notice since it takes up valuable instructional time (which is already taken up by assemblies, field trips, volleyball tournaments and one “minimum day” per week so staff can be apprised of the wonders of Common Core and authentic testing and other edu-fads). And speaking of “maker spaces”, why has this word popped up to replace “art projects”. I’m beginning to hate the phrase almost as much as the phrase “share out”.