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Project-based learning for high schoolers

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I guess you could say that we've done it quite a lot. And my children have learned tons this way. I think there are many sorts - the kind that are organized and designed by the teacher to teach specific things, the kind that teacher-run but meant to be more open-ended, the sort that begin with a single problem that the student has to solve, the sort that the student runs, the sort that have a grading rubric, the sort that doesn't include any sort of presentation or assessment, etc.


If I were a teacher using a project to teach specific skills and content in a school setting, I would have a list of exactly what those skills and that content were, a way of assessing each of them, and a grading rubric. I might organize the project by presenting the students with a question, have them define the problem, have them do research, give me a plan to approve, have them carry out the approved plan, and then have them present the result to the rest of the class. That would leave a nice paper trail and make sure everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing when. I would expect that my students would only be able to do this if they had been receiving training in how to do this and had had some practice, and I would expect that my projects would work as designed (in other words - would teach the things it was meant to teach) after several years of trying and tweaking, and that I would need experience in order to be able to present the project and run it effectively and efficiently. Sigh - can you tell that my children are experts at defeating the purpose of any lesson? If I had more experience as a teacher, I might be able to pull this off, but every time I have tried, they have unwittingly defeated me. They try hard. I try hard. We just aren't very good at doing things this way. My sister does this very effectively with her middle school science class. I've seen her do small things with my own children. I just don't have the experience that she does.


We have been very successful with projects as a way of learning, but they were much more loosely run. Somebody has an idea, they try it, they learn whatever they learn in the process. I usually try to make the child include some sort of academics, some sort of reading and writing, since that is my own definition of "school". If they don't want to do any of that, it gets classified as a non-school project. The reading and writing usually takes the form of research beforehand and either a written description or a journal or a paper based on what they have learned. I have not had much luck choosing the projects myself. If I want my children to learn something they aren't feeling driven to learn themselves at the moment, we are better off either with me straight teaching it or with some sort of textbook. Textbooks are often an efficient way of aquiring knowledge. They are a laborious way of doing it, an uninspiring way of doing it, the results aren't very permanent (at least in my seive-brained family), and it takes some extra work if you ever want to be able to apply the knowledge, but they tend to be good if you want to put a minimum of time and energy into something.


The way projects tend to work in my family is that the child choses something he wants to do or learn about, I make a few suggestions about ways and means and tell him what reading and writing needs to be done, he does the project, and I try to help him organize what he has learned.




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