Reading this article about Amir Abo-Shaeer, the recent MacArthur award winner, took me back a few years. Amir has established an experienced-based learning program for his students. Fast Company reports he runs the engineering Academy “like a business.”
“Students help write grants; they do PR, and they develop our website.” He calls his approach project-based learning and says the students learn both soft skills and business skills so they are ready “to join the world of work.”
“We are going to be left behind if we don’t see a paradigm shift,” says Abo-Shaeer. He therefore wants to see his project-based learning applied to all subjects and taught across the United States in order to meet the demands of “students as consumers of education.”
I applaud Amir for his work and insight into how students learn best– and what we can accomplish when we create the right design for learning.
Years ago, I taught high school journalism along with the standard English courses. Whenever I stopped to think about the difference in the two courses, I was struck with how much the journalism students gained from their real-life work. They wrote, published (yes, even back in the 1980s we used a Mac and published our newspaper at the local printer), and sold advertising. Working in teams, they learned to lead, collaborate, and share. We had real deadlines, and we stuck to them.
In contrast, my English classes, for the most part, sat in rows quietly, discussing the previous night’s reading or taking a quiz.Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet learned how to transfer what I had designed in my journalism classes to the rest of my day.
The journalism students tended to become better writers than my English students. They also approached their learning eagerly, often spending far more time working on our newspaper than our class guidelines required of them. Students engaged in debate about truth and fairness, they set goals, and they learned communication skills. Each student focused on his or her strength, whether advertising, photography, or writing, and yet, they all learned the skills. Heck we were even blogging back in 2004!
I guess I am a slow learner because I finally realized I could apply similar principles to my English classes. And, as I’ve written before, much improved learning came from this approach.
Amir has created a powerful program for his science and engineering students. His philosophy of education resonates with all of us who have worked to create project-based, authentic learning in our classes. And now he has been rewarded fully with a grant to teach other teachers.
image credit: By digitaljournal.com