Many schools have a line in their mission statements about “lifelong learning.” Without a doubt, lifelong learning is critical…absolutely invaluable. But do we really mean it? Are our schools structured to facilitate genuine lifelong learning – the way learning tends to look throughout most of life? Or are most, if not all, human beings just powerful, resilient learners who interact with their environments and adapt to the needs and demands of the situations we encounter – school, as well as the life that bookends school? Do schools model the patterns of real-life, lifelong learning? Or do schools model more of the efficiency standards of the industrial revolution?
Today, in the Center for Teaching Summer Institute, “PBL: Let’s Build Something Together,” we spent a bit of time discussing this notion of lifelong learning. (In the 5 hours of sessions today, we touched on it directly for just a few minutes…but it caught my attention.) Most agreed that lifelong learning tends to take the form of projects to engage and problems to solve.
As children and as adults, other than in the formal setting of school, does your learning tend to resemble sitting for lecture, taking notes, and testing on that recently acquired knowledge? Or does your learning tend to resemble messy, troublesome, challenging-to-decipher issues that grab your curiosity and demand your attention from multiple perspectives? Does lifelong assessment tend to look like standardized, bubble-in examination? Or does lifelong assessment tend to look more like performances and presentations made to interested audiences and decision makers? Does lifelong learning require isolated attempts – attempts where we are required to work alone? Or does lifelong learning require making connections, building on relationships, collaborating, and enlisting the help and support of others? Does lifelong learning insist on getting things right the “first time?” Or does lifelong learning accept the notion of prototyping based on the reality of “ready-fire-aim” tactics, as we learn from failures and make new, more-informed re-attempts? As one team member said today, “Is learning more about covering material, or is it more about uncovering developing understanding?”
I had a great day working with the fifteen, Atlanta-area educators who gathered to take on “PBL: Let’s Build Something Together.” (Tweets from the day are grouped and searchable by #pblcft11.) In a nut shell, we spent the vast majority of our day-one time in divergent brainstorming – generating a rich pool of potential projects for PBL. The exercises and methods we used seemed to mimic the way that most lifelong learning has occurred to me – engaging complex, challenging issues that don’t have answers that can be found on GOOGLE…muddling through complicated problems that demand collective thinking from people who are committed to collaboratively making hypotheses and testing what works and what doesn’t…accepting that success requires a great deal of trial and error and cognitive meandering.
Tomorrow, on day 2, we will concentrate on emergent and convergent thinking, as we narrow our focus onto one or two projects for which we will formulate framework plans…plans that we can use as a skeleton for putting more flesh on the bones during the upcoming school year. Ultimately, we will implement our team-designed project. We will learn so much more about PBL by actually DOING PBL. As you might expect, I am very excited about the possibilities!