Project-based learning – Preparing our students

May 11, 2016 | | Say something

Most educators, when they hear project-based learning think of a lot of things that fall under the umbrella. This could be a presentation, something physical, or any number of other things. Many are worthwhile, and all will teach kids something – even if it’s the value of making mistakes and failed projects.

Today, I’m thinking about an entirely different form of project-based learning. Right now, I’m faced with a very large project and the ramifications of it. Our board recently approved funding to purchase devices in a 1:1 ratio. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year looking at what works, what doesn’t, and what considerations go into a 1:1 initiative. I’m planning as quickly and as thoroughly as I can with the support of our senior leadership. This is the biggest project I’ve run, personally, and it’s not the only one on my plate. I’m certainly still very much involved in project-based learning, although on a much bigger scale than I had assumed. I thought I’d be an expert at it before undertaking something this large – I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

My point is this: what are we doing to prepare our kids for projects of this size and scope? I don’t expect any of our students to be managing multi-million dollar projects still in high school, by any means. But are the projects that we are asking them to do preparing them for larger projects that they may be managing in the future? Do we require kids to develop a project plan and discuss it with other stakeholders? How do they get buy-in for their projects? How do they measure progress, or communicate it to those stakeholders?

My son is taking one college class right now, and the assignments are all essays. Each one of those essays has been written on its due-date and turned in just before the deadline. He does good work, but are we missing opportunities to teach those skills if the only deliverable is the final product?

For many (certainly not all) recent graduates, the definition of financial success often means reaching a six-figure salary. This can come from many different fields of study, or through skilled trades and vocational training. Whatever avenue our students use to pursue their career goals, there are many common skills that will help them achieve that success that we should be encouraging.

Here’s my list:

  1. Communicate with other human beings: It doesn’t matter what career field you choose, if someone wants to be successful in the workplace, they have to be able to communicate with one another. This is far more than just knowing what to say and when to say it. Are our students learning how to tell people no and do so tactfully? Do they know how to tell the boss there might be a better way to do something without losing their jobs?
  2. Collaborate with team members: Are our students really ready to collaborate with others? Do they understand what that means or, like so many college group projects, are they just along for the ride?
  3. Time management: This is one skill I worry about our kids not having. I certainly see my own children struggle with it.
  4. Accountability: Do our kids really understand what it means to be accountable for something? In school, many of them recognize that they are responsible for their grade – or at least they used to. How many times do we hear “the teacher doesn’t like me” or “that teacher was really boring” when trying to come up with a reason for a low grade?

Looking at that list, I don’t see anything that isn’t absolutely required to run a large project successfully. As I said earlier, this project is teaching me many of those same skills, helping me to refine them, this far into my professional career.

It really doesn’t matter if you want to be an IT director, an architect, a plumber, an electrician, or own your own business doing any number of things. Without the skills learned working collaboratively (and alone, at times) on projects, our students are at a significant disadvantage.

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Posted in: EdTech, Project based leearning

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