August 19, 2008

The Project Method zombie

The NCTAF blog calls it "a 21st century education system." Steve Lohr admires it as "the drive for technology-enabled reform of education." The New Technology Foundation calls it "a fully proven model." While I have some hopes for how technology might be used to change instruction, calling project-based learning new is something that raises alarms in my internal History Warning System(tm). I suppose I could point back a few years to Ted Hasselbring et al.'s Jasper Project, but let's nail this puppy to the wall. If you just read a bit of William Heard Kilpatrick's The Project Method (published in Teachers College Record in 1918), I think you'll discover that project-based learning isn't new.

Kilpatrick's version of project-based learning was torn apart in the Progressive Era by John Dewey and Boyd Bode, among others, as vapid, content-free pablum. That's not necessarily the case with well-designed anchored instruction, but the devil's in the details. From my own experience, there is an enormous amount of work that goes into designing anchored instruction that works. Neither technology nor the existence of an interesting case guarantees valuable instruction, and I hope we stop believing in education panaceas, whether you call them project-based learning, vouchers, or anything else.

Again: the existence of anchored instruction isn't bad. It's the idea of any panacea that we need to watch for, else the zombies of long-dead promised panaceas will rise and eat your brains. Or they'll eat our children's brains.

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Posted in Education policy on August 19, 2008 6:31 PM |