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A case for project-based learning

One newspaper headline read New surgeons lack dexterity after too much screen-time. The BBC proclaimed Surgery students 'losing dexterity to stitch patients'. Roger Kneebone, a professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, made these controversial claims at an education symposium held recently at the V&A Museum in London. Controversial or not, it is worth examining the value of hands-on learning in our schools.

In the past, I visited schools in the United States that had fully equipped but shuttered shop classes. I was told there was insufficient budget money to keep them running when funding was tied to achievement test results and the shop classes did not contribute to the school’s overall achievement. Shop teachers in Canada are also under pressure. A safe pupil/teacher ratio for a shop class is substantially lower than school average ratios. That translates into bigger class sizes elsewhere in the school. These bigger budget problems are beyond the scope of this blog. I want to consider the question: What role can a science teacher play to increase tactile learning.

I am an advocate of project-based learning. For many students, preparing for a science fair, math fair, history fair or equivalent is a way to sharpen a wide variety of skills from project and time management, to presentation design and public speaking. Projects allow students to be 'producers of knowledge' rather than merely 'consumers of knowledge'. Larger scale projects can also involve teams of science, math and shop teachers as coaches/consultants to the students.

No time in your curriculum for large scale projects? Then think about smaller scale projects that can be done by students in out-of-class time. Rather than assigning the questions at the end of the chapter, or one more worksheet to complete (either online or on paper), how about having students prepare models to explain their understanding. The more open-ended the process, the more creative the model that the students develop. The evaluation/feedback can be done as the student explains their model and should be weighted more on the understanding than on the creativity or novelty of the model.

It is easy to get excited about new education technology, but ask yourself if this technology is just a variation of the stand-and-deliver presentation or an electronic worksheet. Consider the value of old technologies such as the sewing needle or the hammer and nail.

A case for project-based learning

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