Saturday, March 19, 2011

Student Reflection on Project Based Learning

Sometimes, the kids just “nail it.”

 For the past 18 months, as a learning community of teachers and administrators at Hunterdon Central we have been reading, discussing and exploring the changing dynamics surrounding what we love and what we do. We are teachers. And we embrace the challenges that we face in preparing our teenagers for a rapidly changing world. We have been pulling forward and toward becoming the kind of school that our students really need and away from the traditional school that we have always been.

I think that the following essay from one of our tenth grade students as she reflects on her recent Chemistry class paints a compelling picture:

“When students hear the phrase ‘science lab,’ often their first thoughts are troubling: memories of deciphering monotonous sets of instructions, plowing through procedures, saddled with uncooperative partners. So let’s just say I was less than thrilled to be starting chemistry in September of my sophomore year. However, as the first week unfolded, it became quite clear that this was not the experience my classmates and I were about to have.

On day 2 we were presented with our first lab; a fictitious popcorn company sought our advice to improve their product and increase market sales. We were tasked with analyzing the kernels of several companies to determine the most favorable traits in an ideal popcorn kernel. But there was something missing from this assignment – a set of instructions and a list of lab partners. Soon my classmates and I realized that there would be no one holding our hands, guiding us through every step of the process. In this class, labs challenged us to access and apply our prior knowledge, take advantage of available resources and work together to complete the given task. We would lead ourselves.

At first none of us understood or appreciated the lack of structure and format in our labs. It was stressful having to read between the lines, sift through ideas and collaborate until a feasible solution was reached. What happened to passively following a designated path laid out by our teachers? Where were the rules? We eventually adjusted and surprisingly, my classmates and I grew fond of this approach – it felt as if a layer of freedom and opportunity had been added. We developed a new sense of pride and ownership in our work. Thinking, working and creating together was immensely satisfying (who knew)?

Almost nothing in the “real world” will be simply handed to you. Upon leaving for college, parents can’t give you a detailed map outlining the rest of your life (although many would love to). To some degree, you engineer your destiny. For my classmates and me, Chemistry was an introduction or glimpse at this new world soon to be thrust upon us. Lessons learned transcended mastery of the subject. In working with others we learned compassion; through failure we developed perseverance; free format sparked our creativity; and independence moved us to self-reliance – an unexpected outcome in a subject so absolute.”

As we move through the transformation of traditional teaching and learning, we continually ask ourselves the pivotal question – “Why Change?”

For me, I think of all the kids like Sydney. I know that I want to be smack in the middle of her “ah ha” moment. Where teachers and students belong …..together as they co-create and co-construct learning and discovery.

So thanks Sydney! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Brady,
    One of my graduate students included your post in a final reflection that she was writing for a curriculum course. Sydney's comments are a wonderful affirmation of the work that you and your teachers have chosen to undertake. By challenging yourselves to change the nature of schooling for students, you have given them extraordinary learning experiences and exceptional preparation for life after secondary school. Students and teachers are fortunate to be working alongside you.

    Joseph Serico
    Instructor Rutgers Camden Graduate School
    Asst. Superintenedent Haddonfield, NJ (Retired)