What is Project-Based Learning?

This blog has a two-fold purpose: First, to give the boys a place to show everyone what they're learning. Second, to give some insight about project-based learning and why we've chosen this method of schooling for our kids. I'll try to throw out little tidbits as the months go by, but here's a primer for today:

Project-based learning is a more organic approach to learning than what happens in the traditional classroom (or among many homeschoolers for that matter). The word "organic" here probably translates to "hippie" or "artsy-fartsy" to some, but it simply means "natural." It begins with the premise that kids LOVE to learn, not with the premise that they must be forced to learn.

Don't believe that's true? Consider how many times a kid asks the question "why" in a given day.

Rich: "Dad, why do flies just land everywhere?" (We get LOTS of flies here in the Ozarks in summer)
Dad: Because they're looking for food.
Rich: Why?
Dad: Because they're hungry. Don't you get hungry?
Rich: Yeah, but not every few seconds. Why do they need to eat so much?
Dad: Well, they don't find food every time they eat. I think uh...also maybe their wings get tired? (You can see how quickly my knowledge of flies is exhausted).
Rich: But why can't they just get food in the air - like other insects?
Dad: They aren't carnivores.
Rich: What's a carnivore?
Dad: That means they don't eat meat

What's happening here? He doesn't know it, but he's asking about the digestive system of flies, nay of all living creatures. He's inquisitive about this and millions of other things.

The traditional approach to learning about this is as follows: "Wait till we get to that page in your science book and we'll do a worksheet about it."

The project based approach seizes on this area of interest (Rich is infinitely inquisitive about all things biological). We decide exactly what questions we want answered, then we observe actual flies, read books about flies, find fly experts to talk to, etc. until we've discovered every single thing he wants to know about flies. Now, he has an exhaustive knowledge of flies, but even better (and this is the important part) - No one gave him that knowledge on a platter. It's his because he got it himself, based on his own interest.

Along the way, we've been reading, writing, using math to figure out how fast a fly can fly, the average amount of landings per minute (hour, day, etc.). We've easily incorporated four core subjects into this deeper knowledge of flies. Most important of all, he learned how to find, assess, cull, and arrange the information he found - he learned how to learn.

This is just a hypothetical example, but you can see where project-based learning opts for a deep understanding of several topics that are of interest to the child, rather than a surface scraping hit-and-run of several hundred, as often happens in the traditional classroom. What they are learning about isn't as important as how they learn it and the fact that they want to learn it because it's already an area of interest.

We'll talk later about the boundaries and limitations of project-based learning, and give some examples of how this type of education works in real life.

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