Project-based learning: A teacher’s perspective

Published by Lori Pickert on April 16, 2008 at 05:43 PM

My good friend Emily, who used to teach K-3rd at my tiny private school, left a great comment on my post Observational drawing: Where do we go from here?. It was so great, I’m going to reproduce it here in its entirety so more people can see it.

I know this comment is after-the-fact for this conversation, but I am a "late reader" and so I'm only seeing this for the first time.

As soon as I read your post, Lori, I knew I *had* to write a comment because I still think about all the wonderful things that happened during our instrument project. Learning the instrument families --- no! Becoming *experts* on instrument families, learning how sounds travels, making the ears, the "Keyboard Controversy," all of it was amazing. It's all become a magical memory for me. One that keeps me motivated to keep trying projects in a public school setting even if it is hard and sometimes frustrating. One that reminds me all that children are capable of --- so much more than I sometimes give them credit for. One that encourages me to challenge kids. One that makes me mourn the loss of that class, and the simple fact that my own son will not ever get to experience that moment with those circumstances. (Although I hope to recreate it for him at home.)

Thank you for giving me another moment to relive that year!

I also wanted to share another story related to the "keyboard controversy." As estea pointed out, the piano is a string instrument, and, of course, we knew that as well, but the PROCESS they took to learn that fact was much more worthwhile for them since they had to discover it on their own. They learned so much more than how to classify a piano. They learned that everything written in books isn't necessarily true, as you mentioned. They learned how to debate. They learned how to make hypotheses and conclusions. (In the end, they decided that a piano was, indeed, a string instrument, BUT an electronic keyboard was a percussion instrument since it doesn't have strings.)

The story I was thinking of happened about that same time. A child in the class became very interested in the Loch Ness Monster. He asked me if it was real, and, of course, I answered, "I don't know. Why don't you try to find out?" So, he did! He checked out books on the subject, interviewed his classmates to see what they thought, and we probably looked online for information too. And then all of sudden, one day, his interest was gone. *Poof!* No more discussions, no questions, nothing. When I asked him about it, he replied, "Oh, I asked my dad what he thought, and he said it wasn't real. So now I know." And just like that, he lost so many valuable learning opportunities.

And now I've rambled for long enough. Thank you again, Lori, for writing about this!

Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to share this.


Comment by michele james-parham on April 17, 2008 at 12:28 AM

"...As estea pointed out, the piano is a string instrument...BUT an electronic keyboard was a percussion instrument since it doesn't have strings."

I'll agree with Emily that a piano is a string instrument, however, I fully believe and my avant garde husband will too, that a piano should really be played like the percussion instrument it wants to be! Are all electronic instruments and electronically synthesized instruments considered percussion?

Also, on a side note, I think more people, especially children would enjoy learning to play the piano if they had access to instructors who valued jazz style equal to or over classical and playing by ear over learning to read sheet music from day one. Make piano fun, experimental and then ease into more structure.

Isn't it fascinating how children will take information at face value when it comes from someone such as a parent -- especially when it's about abstract or controversial topics? Sadly, I think too many children don't have educators in their lives who encourage them to find out the facts/opinions and then make up their own minds. It's almost as though a child thinking for herself is not to be allowed, especially if her thoughts stray from what a certain curriculum or community dictate or agree on.

I think children should be given more space to be free and ponder life for themselves. When we start forcing our ideas of what we think they should know or think, we tend to squash their natural desire to find out for themselves.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2008 at 12:41 AM

michelle - yes, so true - children see their parents as a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. once they hear the answer, they're done. when a simple "i don't know - let's find out!" can throw open a door to so much learning!

and i also agree - letting children find the information themselves, weigh its merits, and arrive at their own conclusion - now *that's* learning - and along the way they develop so many critical thinking skills .. and so much more.

Comment by Emily - from K3! on April 17, 2008 at 01:37 PM

Just to clarify --- the conclusion the students made about electronic keyboards was their own. It was not necessarily the correct one. They made this conclusion mostly because the two camps (the percussion side and the string side) wanted to make a fair compromise. So, the string side got the piano, but the percussion side got the electronic keyboard.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2008 at 03:06 PM

emily, you should hang around here more often! :^)

Comment by Emily on April 17, 2008 at 03:13 PM

Yes, I agree! :) I really enjoy reading all of this. I just didn't have time before. So, for the next few weeks as my student teacher is in full take-over, I'll be visiting a lot! I love discussing these topics. It's inspiring, motivating, and fun! I want to get out all my good books again --- Hundred Languages, Alfie Kohn, Howard Garner, John Holt, etc.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2008 at 03:35 PM

i'm glad you're going to hang out & be part of the discussion! :^)

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