A Whole New World: Part 1

Sorry for the lack of posting the last two weeks. This is long overdue:

Almost a year and a half ago I had a conversation with a former co-worker that has, at this point, changed my life.

The course of events that has followed that fateful conversation has led me to what I’ve been putting my soul into for this entire school year. What has transpired for me is that paradigm shift I’ve mentioned so often in previous posts. It has been the most terrifying, exilerating, tiring, inspiring, stressful and rewarding time of my life. (Well, second most if you count my engagement and subsequent wedding day to my beautiful wife. Love you!) The shift I speak of is about embracing what I feel in my soul we’ve lost in American education–innovation.

During my undergraduate studies, I was essentially a double major (although my degree doesn’t say as much) because I split my major classes between English courses and education/pedagogy courses. In my pedagogy classes, I encountered theory after theory only to find out that in most cases those theories are rarely practiced in the classroom. It wasn’t until my conversation with my former co-worker that I questioned this to the extent I do now. Many of us who are teachers are taught about constructivist theories and told that research shows that practice in these theories produce the best results for learners/students, yet these theories are practiced rarely in the arena of public American education.  Why is it so rare? Simple–testing.

I will not go into my mission statement of how deplorable standardized testing is, but it should be noted that I have a great deal of bias towards how abhorrent the excessive testing we put our students through is in order to compare ourselves to other students globally. This is where innovation has fallen to the proverbial way-side. Educators are told one thing works, but then taught to practice teaching through lecture, rote memorization, and content regurgitation. I’m as guilty as anyone on this front. A colleague of mine mentioned how he took a constructivist class for his specialist degree in which the professor preached the importance of constructivist teaching, yet the professor spent each class using lecture to convey its importance. Oh the irony!

Back to the discussion with my former co-worker. Essentially, he asked if I’d ever heard of project-based learning (PBL)? I had, but it was a vague recollection from my undergraduate years. He handed me a few books and told me to review the idea and proceeded to urge me to think about teaching a PBL course the following year. (Our administration was very supportive of implementing this type of course.) I began reading the books and found myself enthralled by the idea of teaching in such a constructivist style. I would be teaching in a way that was far more engaging, engrossing, and exhilarating than my stand-and-deliver approach I’d used for the past three years. Needless to say, I was in.

This first post is really an introduction for the next several on the topic of project-based and problem-based learning. I intend for “A Whole New World” to be a series of posts that will familiarize others with PBL, constructivist theory, and why teaching in this country must change! I will share my triumphs and failures, and along the way I hope to inspire others to follow my lead.

Most of us agree that our education system is stagnant. The question is what are we going to do about?!

In the meantime, you can check out a few of these resources to see what PBL is for yourself:

The Buck Institute for Education

The Coolest School in America

Disrupting Class

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