Isn’t This Just Great Teaching?

This week my wondering floated directly to the surface: Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, Challenge Based Learning . . . aren’t these all just synonyms for great teaching?
  • “At its best, PBL can help you as a teacher create a high-performing classroom in which you and your students form a powerful learning community focused on achievement, self-mastery, and contribution to the community. It allows you to focus on central ideas and salient issues in your curriculum, create engaging and challenging activities in the classroom, and support self-directed learning among your students.” – Introduction to Problem Based Learning
  • “PBL requires that teachers facilitate and manage the process of learning. Rather than rely on the model of the child as an empty vessel to be filled, PBL teachers must create tasks and conditions under which student thinking can be revealed—a cocreative process that involves inquiry, dialogue, and skill building as the project proceeds.” – Introduction to Problem Based Learning
  • “What if we focused our energy not on test scores and rankings but on engaging students in their work? What if their work was more than facts and formulas as presented in books, but relevant to the world they see? What if rather than trying to teach them problem solving, we actually encouraged them to take on problems that needed solving? . . .and the evidence from this pilot shows that when given the room and flexibility to tackle things they see as not only relevant, but critical to their lives, they are not only engaged, but they bring the learning to themselves” – NMC Report
  •  “What’s essential, she says, “is establishing the learning atmosphere, how the class feels.” Instead of generating rules with her students, she invites them to “generate tendencies, [and] positive ways to be together.” – Connie Weber
  • “to get a new sense of themselves as learners — that learning is something valuable,”        –Seymour Papert

“High-performing”, “learning community,” “self-mastery,” “engaging,” “process of learning,” “cocreative,” “skill building,” “relevant,” “valuable,” do I need to go on? What teacher doesn’t strive to have their classroom live and breathe these characteristics. No matter what you call it, engaging students in learning that is both important to them and empowering for their lives is one of the central reasons why we are educators.

Our students hold immense potential for the betterment of our future. It is therefore our responsiblity, as educators, to provide learning experiences in which they can practice and problem-solve that task of leading the future. In her TED talk, Jane talks about capitalizing on the potential of gamers to solve some of the looming world problems. Her full talk is embedded here, however she presents three specific examples of games that she has developed to help practice solving real world problems starting at 15:32. Enjoy!

No matter how we go about it or what we call it, we need to provide learning opportunities that are relevant, challenging, multi-faceted, connected, involve current technology, require collaboration, encourage action, and hold meaning for our students and their futures. If we aim for anything less than this, we are doing our students a disservice.

3 Replies to “Isn’t This Just Great Teaching?”

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more! I went to this assessment workshop last year intending to walk away with all of these new, great ideas, but was both happy and somewhat annoyed to find out that I already knew most of what was being presented. Yes, I walked away with a few new ideas, but the thinking behind it wasn’t new. At first I felt like it was a waste, but then my coordinator reassured me in saying that if I had come back completely blown away she would have been worried haha. When it really comes down to it, good teaching is good teaching. There will always be new and exciting ideas out there – but as you said, “No matter how we go about it or what we call it, we need to provide learning opportunities that are relevant, challenging, multi-faceted, connected, involve current technology, require collaboration, encourage action, and hold meaning for our students and their futures.”

    In my readings this week, I came across an interesting article entitled, ” Standardized tests discriminate against the next Einstein and Teslas” ( In the article the author talks about the importance of teachers teaching to all of the different types of student profiles in their classroom, and that according to the way colleges and universities test today, Einstein and Teslas would have been looked over as genuises.

    Maybe we have always known what is best way to teach, but then again, who has never benefited from a few helpful reminders now and again:)

  2. Totally agree! So, then, why is this such a challenge to implement, particularly in high school classrooms? Does that mean we don’t all agree on these desired outcomes? Or that there are other obstacles in our way? Or that we struggle to implement a new style of teaching? Would be interested to hear your thoughts. Glad you highlighted this video – it’s a key one for Week 3 🙂

    1. Kim, these articles make it all sound so easy, each one driving home the why behind this kind of relevant learning. No one is disgareeing with the why, in fact I would presume the majority of educators today are on board saying “yes, let’s teach like this, this is what matters!” However, you are bringing up the how with the fantastic question of: if everyone is on board, then why isn’t everyone teaching this way from elementary up through high school. I think there are many reasons but speaking from my own experience here are a few: restrictive administrations who preach this philosophy of learning but don’t provide training and support for teachers to implement it, lack of time in the daily schedule to “fit it all in”, parents who desire traditional “results” and make their voices heard, a fixed mindset on the teachers’ part as it takes a lot of energy to learn, implement, and reflect on a new style of teaching. I guess the most overarching answer to your “why is this such a challenge to implement” is control. From heads of schools to parents to principals to curriculum coordinators to the very teachers in the classrooms, there is a strong element of control over what, when, and how the students learn that we all have to release. I think it takes the loosening of this control and the simultaneous trusting of our students for such learning to take place. What do you think?

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