The Importance of Critical Connections
Project-Based Learning is the art of learning through a project. Depending on where you are, these projects are not always limited to a certain subject. They can be about anything; cell biology, marine biology, a cold case file - anything you can imagine. A project I am currently working on involves connecting my current class competencies (specific skills, having to do with the subject area content that the state requires students to learn) to Marine Biology and showing how important it is to do your best. Why? That is what I love and I have always wanted to become a Marine Biologist. Unlike some of my other projects where I built a large model of a cell "city," this project is simply an essay that provides examples to show how important it is to pay attention and do your best.
According to an article published by Buck Institute, working in a project-based environment makes school more engaging for students, in turn improving the amount of knowledge they retain. From personal experience I can say this is true. I spent three days building a cell model and a total of four days taking 25 pages of notes to ensure I did my best on a project. I did this by my own choice, and because I learned through making the project I am still able to remember everything from that project, a year and a half later.
In addition to Project-Based Learning, my school also uses Competency-Based Learning. Generally, a student sits through a class half-paying attention in order to barely pass a test required by the state. However, Competency-Based Learning breaks the one size fits all rule; allowing students to work at their own pace, mastering subjects to such a depth that they will remember for years to come. Competency-Based Learning is not simply "learning" something, taking a test, and passing; it is about mastering a competency to the best of your ability, so that you know it well enough that you can teach those around you.
Another important facet of this model is how it demands that students connect their learning to the real world. Connecting things to the real world is something I do every day, for every subject, for every competency. Connecting competencies to the real world allows students, and myself, to see that we will use what we are learning now in our future. This in turn gets rid of the age old excuse, "I will never use this when I am older." Having students do this on their own, and do it without any help, gives them so many options to discover and work with. This helps them figure out what they want to do in life, allowing them to see what it's like in different fields.
All in all, I believe students who participate in Project-Based and Competency-Based Learning systems have a better understanding of everything they have gone over and learned throughout their high school careers, and will most likely do better in the real world itself.