Not long after I became interested in project based learning, I read Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith's book, Most Likey to Succeed. The book was also turned in to a fantastic documentary. I highly recommend both (as always, read the book first, just saying). After reading about this study, I began questioning the need to keep doing things as we have always done in education:
The Lawrenceville School is consistently rated as one of the very best U.S. elite private high schools (according to Forbes). A decade ago, it ran fascinating experiment with students taking core science courses. When students returned after summer vacation, they were asked to retake the final exam they had completed three months earlier. Actually, it was a simplified version of the final, as the faculty eliminated any detailed questions that students should't be expected to remember a few months later. The results were stunning. When students took the final in June, the average grade was a B+ (87%); when the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade was an F (58%). Not one student retained mastery of all important concepts covered by the course. Following this experiment, Lawrenceville completely rethought the way courses were taught, eliminating almost half of the content to emphasize deeper learning. When repeating the experiment in subsequent years, the results were far more satisfactory.
As I began to think about project based learning, I became worried that I would never get through all of the curriculum needed. How could I do long term projects that required kids to research topics and be exposed to inquiry methods of teaching. These both would take time and I only have approximately 184 days with students. After reading the study done at Lawrenceville, I can better about doing less chemistry, but diving deeper into chemistry. Having students just memorize and regurgitate information for an exam, only to immediately forget this information, does not bode well for education in the U.S. Does this mean I no longer teach chemistry, not at all. My students still do labs, they still listen to lectures and take notes, they still work problems, but I am trying to incorporate more authentic experiences and less multiple choice tests.