When I think back to my own years of schooling and what I learned, my most vivid memories center around the large projects that I completed.
In middle school I remember creating an original country replete with a rich history, language, culture and religion. As a result, I learned about what constitutes a civilization and culture, as well as how government, religion and language developed I also remember delving into the mysteries of Stonehenge, which led to an investigation of European and Celtic prehistory, the history of and literature surrounding the Roman invasion of England, King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, and surprisingly, astronomy. My eyes were opened to the breadth, scope, and pageantry of history, and if you wonder how all of those topics are related, I can still explain it if you have an ear to spare.
Project Based Learning has been at the core for how students learn at New Morning School from the beginning. I cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be part of this learning community and how much I feel that I have returned to my learning roots while teaching here.Linda Hyde
Making history come alive through writing
I have always been a writer, and I was lucky enough to have teachers who encouraged me to write. Instead of requiring countless research papers in World History class, my teacher not only suggested, but encouraged me to write stories about ancient civilizations. I plunged into the research to make my stories more authentic and learned more about ancient civilizations than my classmates did through their research. By writing about the past, history came alive for me.
My 70s era, inspired, inventive teachers explored innovative teaching methods and created child-centered classrooms. They were not so concerned about testing and curriculum standards, but more concerned with “facilitating magic” in the classroom by stimulating our natural curiosity and providing us with the freedom to pursue those curiosities. I didn’t know then that there was a word for this type of learning, only that I loved to learn by spreading my wings and diving into learning projects.
As I trained and prepared for my teaching career, trends in education came and went, and in the public schools, where I eventually landed, the focus turned to testing, and standards like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Common Core, and many other curricula, not that these pedagogical programs didn’t have their place, but I was required to adhere more and more to the latest political educational mandates How and why students learn became less important than their grades and test scores.
PBL vs. No Child Left Behind, Common Core
All the while, inspired by my earlier teachers, I fought to create meaningful projects and choices for my students to encourage authentic learning and creativity because I never forgot its powerful impact on me. Eventually I discovered this type of learning is called Project Based Learning (PBL), and I was not alone in touting its value. In fact, many education experts are now, again, applauding its benefits. I guess everything old is new again, as they say, especially if it has intrinsic value.
Project Based Learning has been at the core for how students learn at New Morning School from the beginning. I cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be part of this learning community and how much I feel that I have returned to my learning roots while teaching here.
Inspired by the research and teachings of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who said “knowledge is a consequence of experience,” school founder Elaine Kennedy established the tradition of a school-wide project or learning experience. Every year, all students from preschool through middle school, choose a topic to explore.
This year, topics ranged from Cats to Crypto Currency, to Cosmology/Astrophysics, to Climate Change. For six weeks, students investigate and dive deeply into their topics. They create 3-D models, dioramas, display boards, essays and electronic presentations to communicate what they have learned. At the end of their investigation, students share their findings with the school and greater community. It is called Museum, and it is the highlight of the school year. Every year students stand proudly beside their work as it not only reflects an authentic learning experience, but also inspires confidence in students and prepares them to be creative and critical thinkers in the real world.
Museum is one NMS example of Project Based Learning
Museum is just the beginning of PBL at New Morning School. Much of what students learn is through individualized and group projects at all levels of the curriculum, and the results have been exciting and inspiring. John Spencer, noted educator, and self-professed professor, author, and maker, discusses the benefits of PBL in the following short video that is well-worth a view: What Happens When Students Engage in Project-Based Learning?
As John Spencer emphasizes, PBL enables students to embrace a growth mindset and take creative risks which result in them becoming innovative, iterative and resilient individuals well prepared for solving the problems of the future creative economy.
New Morning School values and embraces PBL. What more can we expect from educators and our schools than this? At New Morning School, the answer is self-evident.
Linda Hyde is a middle school teacher at New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She may be reached at email@example.com.