I’m studying Spanish (I have been for years). I speak so well with my teacher. She will say, “Today, we will work on subjunctive verbs” and wow, can I knock them out. I pretty much get them all right. But, the reason I can do that is that I know what we are working on. I know exactly how to conjugate each verb because I already know it is going to be in the subjunctive tense. I look brilliant! But, an hour later, when I’m picking my kids up at school and talking to a friend, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll conjugate all of those verbs incorrectly. That’s because when I’m talking in real life I use all the tenses and I use a lot of different verbs and often I’m just frankly making up words.
School is a lot like that. It is easy to do math when you know your whole test is going to be on multiplication. But, what happens when you are looking at your finances and have to add, subtract, divide, and use percentages? What about when you are cooking and you want to halve or triple your recipe? Maybe you are an architect and you have to use math, science, and art history all in one project? We don’t live live subject by subject, chapter by chapter, and we probably shouldn’t learn that way, either.
I’ve been reading a lot about project-based curriculum. I love reading about kids who learn about Westward Expansion by reading books about adventurers, mapping out a trip West, learning about the flora and fauna encountered on the way, studying weather patterns to decide departure times and “hunker-down” periods. That is fun, that will get kids excited, and you will find kids learning skills that they might use in their regular lives. Perhaps they will plan a move of their own some day. Of course. they won’t have to pack a conestoga wagon but they might need to pack their SUV. Wolves might not be an issue, but knowing speed limits and best routes would be helpful.
I would love to teach about George Washington. I would have kids read books about him, visit Mount Vernon, his farm, either in person or virtually, and plan their own farm outline. It would be great to have a class grow some of the crops that Washington grew and maybe even harvest them in the same way. (Not tobacco, of course). Kids could work on a budget for running the household, debate what he should have done about slaves both at home and in the country, and write their own plan for establishing a new nation. The possibilities are endless! A project-based curriculum will help kids learn, remember what they have learned, and be able to apply their learning to real life situations.
The Common Core Standards have a lot of great concepts in them. It would be easy to take the standards and put them together in grade level projects. Would our current testing system make sense? No. But, maybe we can keep the good (the standards) and improve the tests so that they assess additional skills like working as a team, solving problems, anticipating issues, and creatively completing a comprehensive project.
We can hope, right? In the meantime, I’m going to keep reading everything I can about project-based curriculum programs.