Every month we publish two articles on “Shady Oak Best Practices,” our favorite approaches to education and why they work. If friends ask why you send your kids to Shady Oak instead of a “regular” school, refer them to this series—and the science backing us up—for starters.
Project-based learning—as opposed to “book” or other input-based learning—involves “learning by doing” to master skills or solve problems. The practical advantages are many:
focus moves beyond simply getting it “right” into growing, developing, and seeing more and more possibilities for ongoing improvement.
No motor vehicles bureau would issue a driver’s license to any applicant, even if he could draw an auto blueprint from memory and recite the traffic law code word for word, until he actually demonstrated ability to handle a car on the streets. Anyone with a drop of experience in high school science knows theories have to be tested and backed up with concrete evidence before gaining “as good as proven” status. Even small children learn to swim, bicycle, and do math problems by actively practicing those activities. Why shouldn’t formal education focus less on studying and more on practical application?
Just “knowing the answers,” or even the formula to find the answers, makes for a very one-dimensional learning experience. When classroom work focuses regularly on projects—building models, writing original stories, conducting experiments—focus moves beyond simply getting it “right” into growing, developing, and seeing more and more possibilities for ongoing improvement.
Many children are labeled “poor students” and “not very bright” because their brains aren’t wired to instantly grasp spoken or written words—yet they turn into “geniuses” when given opportunities for hands-on, interactive learning. Since project-based learning engages all the senses and puts things in three dimensions, it allows students with a variety of natural learning styles to fully participate and absorb fresh knowledge.
Typical projects are done in pairs or groups—and working toward set goals as a team teaches each team member to listen to others, respect everyone else’s ability to contribute, and develop other “soft skills” that will be invaluable for success in the adult world. (Many people who excel in school under traditional academic models grow up to be ultra-introverted, self-centered individuals no one wants to work with.) And by creating tangible results to share with the classroom, students cultivate an overall atmosphere of community rather than competition.
At Shady Oak, we emphasize project-based learning because there’s no better way to teach skills that will be essential to effectiveness in the adult world.