Do you remember when you learned to drive a car with a manual (standard) transmission? Who was it that taught you? Your grandfather? A best friend? For most people, it was their dad. Remember when he showed you how to balance pressing the accelerator while slowly lifting up on the clutch? That it was a fluid movement, done at the same time? And you looked and you nodded and you knew intellectually how it was done.
Then it was your turn.
You slid into the driver’s seat, palms a little sweaty from nerves. You knew how to feather those pedals. And you started the car. You pressed down on the clutch, shifted into first gear, and you nodded to yourself as you took in that last breath before you simultaneously pressed the accelerator and let up the clutch.
What happened at that moment? Did the car slowly inch forward as you began to actually drive?
Not if you were like most people! Your car lurched forward and died, didn’t it? And I’ll tell you why.
We had learned intellectually about what was supposed to happen. Dad had told us. He had even showed us. We could tell you what we were supposed to do to engage the gears smoothly. I’ll bet we could even perhaps pass a test, multiple-choice or otherwise about it. But we didn’t know what it meant to shift gears or drive a standard-transmission car until we’d actually tried it. Sure we made a few mistakes, frequently with immediate and startling feedback of killing the car, but we practiced, and eventually were successful.
That multiple-choice test some of us took in driver’s ed was no help until we actually got into a car and learned by doing.
Why is it we think that learning at school is any different from learning at home? Why do we think just because kids take, and presumably pass, tests in Science, Math, Reading, Social Studies, etc that they’re prepared for life?
No, for the past 11 years, our school system has been focused on test scores and test preps. We’ve not focused on actually doing much of anything.
But Project Based Learning is different. It’s about learning by doing. It’s about hands-on experience. It’s kind of like the kind of learning we do in everyday life on the farm, in our businesses, or in our homes. Because that’s real life. And unless your kids are going to be taking tests for a living, this hands-on approach is something that’s real, with authentic and immediate feedback for success or failure, with a chance to practice and master.
And our kids will be doing authentic learning with authentic feedback, just like we all did in that car so many years ago.