Needing and Wanting to Learn: What we do NOT do in our classrooms well

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know that I am passionate about student-led, project-based learning environments. I believe in active learning where the students are actively acquiring knowledge and are proactive in their own learning and understanding….as well as applying that knowledge. The traditional lecture model of learning with students passively receiving information from the teacher in 45 minute chunks for 7 hours a day is something I don’t believe has a place in the school of 2016.

I am not suggesting that there is never a time for information to be given to a student, possibly even in lecture format.

“Wait. What? You just contradicted yourself!”, the world said.

Motivation in people is something that is internal. Sure, there can be incentives to get someone to do something, but ultimately, a person does something because they either want something or they need something. It is as simply as that.

Consider the traditional lecture & note-taking classroom experience. The teacher is giving the students a large quantity of information that is neither wanted, nor needed beyond getting ready for the upcoming test. But there has to be a reason for learning other than the upcoming test or Algebra 2 next year.

They need to know the parts of a computer in order to build one

They need to know the parts of a computer in order to build one

Students neither NEED or WANT what the teacher is “giving” them. Perhaps they could. They definitely should. Is there a way we can setup the classroom such that they DO want and need knowledge.

Consider the project-based classroom where students are building something, making something, writing something, programming something, researching something, calculating something, drawing something, and so on. The point is they are doing something. Now…in a well crafted project, the teacher has students propose projects where the teacher knows that a certain skillset, vocabulary, understanding, or ability will be needed in order to accomplish that project well. In that well crafted project, the students had direct input on the project they are proposing(very important!) So, now because students have buy-in of their own project, there are things they WANT to do to make it better. Right? Now is when it makes sense to GIVE the students something. Now might be when you might lecture to get an idea across, show them what something means, explain a relationship, or introduce a new skill. But don’t give them to everyone, and don’t take too long. In order to complete the project completely, the requirements of the project they proposed have them demonstrating, displaying, other otherwise using certain skills, ideas, concepts, or methodologies. Now, they NEED that “stuff” in order to complete the project. And they want to complete the project because it is something they care about.

Could it be that simple?

I’ll warn you…….you might find that once students take a hold of their own learning, they might not want to wait. They might learn online and with each other without you. They might figure stuff out on their own in order to get where they are NEEDING and WANTING to go.

Hmmmmm……

So, now the students both NEED and WANT something as part of their educational experience. Their internal motivation has been inspired. Perhaps that student who had not connected before DOES NOW. Perhaps that section of class which has just really had any pizzazz DOES NOW. Perhaps those abstract ideas that they never really got they DO NOW.

Students teaching students an Hour of Code

Students teaching students an Hour of Code

The result was the same…that they “got” the stuff you wanted them to get. The difference was how and when you gave it to them. Interesting enough, it is also possible you did not “give” it to them at all. They discovered it. They figured it out. They found out. The learned without you. Awesome if so.

That is my point about project based learning. In a well crafted project, it can help you accomplish things you had not before. And it might even allow your students to interact with your subject area in ways they had not before.

About Doug Bergman

Head of Computer Science at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC
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