The Evolution of the School Project

Do you remember making sugar cube pyramids as a child during your study of ancient Egypt? Or shoebox dioramas during your research of our world’s ecosystems? A lot has changed since students were asked to learn content within a particular subject area and represent it in a narrowly-defined way.

Lately, schools are coming around to the fact that dynamic projects are important ways to build 21st-century skills, and not just add-ons at the end of a unit or area of study. The standards for learning and development are higher than ever, and gone are the days when student accountability and metacognition are absent from a rubric.

You’ve likely heard the term “project-based learning” and may or may not know the nuances surrounding this term. At Fessenden, we work to demystify this for students and parents alike.

Projects With a Purpose

In the last decade, there has been an increased acknowledgment that differentiation—the practice of incorporating a wide range of lessons, adaptations, and techniques into a learning environment to instruct a diverse group of students with varied learning needs—leads to greater student learning outcomes. This practice in classrooms across the country has led to a heightened focus on the design, implementation, and quality of school projects in a way that challenges and inspires young learners.

One distinction between private schools and public schools is that private schools are often able to implement thoughtful projects into their curricula with greater frequency and originality. This is possible because they are not held to state standards or required to take standardized tests. Teachers in private schools are then able to be more innovative with their lesson planning, and because they do not have to spend valuable class time preparing students for standardized tests, they are able to use their class time with greater flexibility and creativity.

How Project-Based Learning Promotes a Growth Mindset

To understand the importance of a growth mindset, one must know how it differs from a fixed mindset, one in which a student (or teacher) sets limitations on creativity and possibility. People with fixed mindsets often avoid challenges, give up easily, view intelligence as fixed, and shut down in the face of criticism. A growth mindset is one that views intelligence as a skill and something that can be developed and improved; this way of thinking views challenges as opportunities and embraces critical feedback.

So, how do projects lead to a growth mindset? When designed successfully, they inspire students to think outside of the box, collaborate with peers, and become excited by finding solutions to seemingly impossible challenges. The open-ended nature of a project-based learning experience also allows students to take greater ownership over their learning, and by doing so help them to change the way they approach their own education. They no longer see failure as something to be avoided, but rather as a necessary part of the learning process. They begin to embrace challenge and persist in the face of adversity in ways they would not have been exposed to in traditional academic settings. When done well, project-based learning can be truly transformative for students.  

You Tell Us.

Have you heard about project-based learning? Do you feel that this type of learning is beneficial to students today?

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