As frequently happens, the comments I received on my recent blurb on Elon Musk’s ideas for how to teach math, were better than the post itself. So here they are:
From Richard Phelps:
My high school physics class — in the early seventies — comprised project after project. Teacher called it “Harvard Physics.” Each class period was filled with setting up equipment and building contraptions, in small groups. Essentially, it was a “lab only” course. I learned less in that course than in any other over 4 years of high school, and I’m including gym in the comparison. Typically, an entire class period was devoted to delivering just one fact or concept — “authentically” — that could have been simply told to us in less than a minute or, with some discussion, in just a few minutes — un-authentically. Moreover, so much of our attention was focused on building the contraptions and getting them to work that, in most cases, the one factoid we were supposed to learn was lost in the morass of mostly irrelevant information.
Traditional learning often includes year-end projects, but PBL’s approach is to use only that to hack their way to a vocational education. PBL is the definition of a non-liberal arts education. How does hacking create deep understanding and critical thinking?
I remember all of the projects my son had to do in K-6. One had him build a diorama of a national site with no preparation in art or graphic design. I distinctly remember taking the time to teach him how to plan (and limit) the project, perspective, graphic arts, and even how to label the project so that the text was centered. If the result was not crappy enough, then they knew the parents helped.
Why have teachers if all they’re going to be are potted plants on the side? We can save a lot of money that can be used to hire individual subject expert tutors starting in Kindergarten. Then again, why not do it right and teach the skills in class and leave it to after school clubs for opt-in PBL.
2 thoughts on “Comments on Elon Musk’s PBL-based advice”
Ah, tut-tut, Richard. It was engaging. E-N-G-A-G-I-N-G, I say. En-gay-jing! How wonderful. So who cares if you learned anything? That’s so 20th Century!
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He is cool but he’s distracted. While he hangs out with the cool kids and dreams big, Musk’s businesses drown. Elon Musk requires more discipline.