Monday, February 10, 2014

Teacher Leadership Challenge | February 10, 2014

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This multipart series is intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online, through blogging, and in person.
The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published by sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

What role should projects play in teaching and learning?

BoatTried-and-true methods of instruction have been well-documented in research as well as effective classrooms over the years. The use of graphic organizers, non-linguistic representations, and note-taking strategies all have long-standing legacies in classrooms around the world. Their usefulness in teaching and learning is something with which many teachers and learners are familiar.
Born out of these classic instructional methods have emerged some lesser known, but up-and-coming, trends in teaching approaches, including project-based learninginnovation days20% time, and challenge-based learning. For a small percentage of teachers around the world, these student-centered methods are the pinnacle of what classroom education should be. 

Full Disclosure: I am a strong proponent of project-based and problem-based learning in the classroom.
While approaches to teaching and learning may have taken an especially project-oriented style recently, the integration of projects into classroom learning is nothing new. In fact, learning by doing projects has been a part of many classrooms for years, and can even be seen documented here in this 1996 video of a 5th grade science project
So what role should projects serve in teaching and learning? Should projects be the culmination of a learning progression, a demonstration of learning, or an anchor upon which to build learning? Many different takes and approaches to incorporating projects into the classroom exist, but are they all equal? Do they all accomplish the same goal? Are classrooms that embrace project-based learning methods supplanting classic teaching methods and thus essential curriculum? Or, is it possible that project-based learning methods can support tried-and-true instructional strategies and teach curriculum equally well? 
Some proponents of project-based learning argue that if the project is the center of the learning, then that authentic experience will guide students to learning whatever curriculum is in place; however, non-constructivist educators argue that projects cannot be done without sacrificing "coverage" of content. Is it possible to have both? Are projects a viable method of assessing learning? Do projects simply amount to "busy work" for students or present more hurdles to learning than benefits? Can a good project lead to meaningful learning without giving up the curriculum that needs to be taught? 
Ultimately, projects are likely here to stay; however, the move to project-based learning may or may not catch widespread use over time. With the daunting task of teaching all the curricula that state standards require, and keeping up with the assessment and accountability measures in place for all schools, what role should projects play in teaching in learning? How do teachers maintain the desired role of projects in learning without shortchanging other aspects of teaching and learning?

Image Credit: Gary G. Abud, Jr.