A 21st Century Scenario for Project-based Learning

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

As we end the year 2011, we find our schools at best not reaching all students. In some instances we have excellent programs that are producing leading students, but far too often we have programs where students are dropping out and ending in a nonproductive stalemate of failure. At one end we have college graduates who are marrying one another and merging two reasonably well paying salaries and, at the other end, some poor kids just barely graduating from high school, failing to marry and often becoming struggling single moms with a dismal future that may include the increasing problems of single parenthood.

These trends are developing a bigger bridge between the haves and havenots. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. This chasm is neither good for the individual nor society. Our current educational system is neither engaging, inspiring nor empowering many of our young people.

Alternate learning patterns are developing from home schooling to charter schools to virtual schools. Sometimes significant engagement comes in clubs and extracurricular activities. On Internet sites many learners are engaged in complicated games that even allow for team activities with distant partners. Many learners are engaged in blended learning activities, that is, traditional classes and alternative learning environments.

To understand the challenges in today’s school system, we will follow five students that are on a TLRI (Total Learning Research Institute) Mars City blended learning team creating a Mars challenge weather balloon. Josh’s parents are both scientists working on environmental changes. Josh is an only child and has done well in traditional schools. He often reads his parents’ professional journals and enters into their professional discussions at the dinner table. Sue Ellen is a child of a single mother and, while she is a reasonably good student, does not have a rich scientific environment at home.

Bradford is in a charter school. His parents are blue collar and have great hopes that he will be the first in the family to graduate from college. Michelle is convinced that she will be a great actress. Her parents are moderately interested in her progress. She is the fourth of five children. Michelle is a bubbly young woman that is focused on her participation in the drama team and high school players programs. Thomas is hard of hearing but integrated into the regular classroom with an electronic interpreter that translates others’ speech into captions. Thomas has been slowly losing his hearing but developed normal speech and language prior to his onset of deafness. He is very good at mathematics.

At their first online meeting they selected the name “Zebra One” for their team. At first there was some awkward moments about Thomas being on the team, but it became obvious that using social media enabled him to participate equally with other team members. But the team reviewed the Foundation Five rules and accepted Thomas with no trouble. He quickly demonstrated his math abilities and demonstrated his place on the team. At the third meeting, Josh commented that he was skeptical about Thomas being a team member but now thinks he is really smart. Zebra One includes a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Center that serves as a mentor when they need her. Among other things, she can help them find NASA personnel if they need advice.

Sue Ellen wonders why we are worrying about Mars when we have so many problems on Earth. She voices this concern in the team meetings. While Sue Ellen is an honors physics student, she is also blind and uses a Kurzweil reading machine. Few people on the Zebra One team knew she was blind, until one meeting she casually mentioned it since the team generally met via social media and audio telephone conferences.

Thomas had agreed to be the recorder for the Zebra One team since his CAPTEL phone recorded all speech and translated it into captions. The team was especially interested in the payload detecting radiation levels. Therefore, their payload devices include a video camera and radiation detectors. They also assumed that there would be water on Mars from the permafrost, and therefore the preferred lifting gas would be hydrogen since it could be generated from water on Mars.

The unique TLRI New Frontiers Mars balloon challenge program works equally well in both a classroom setting and in a distant learning team setting where the members are in different locations. All materials meet the requirements for use by learners with disabilities. The team format enables learners who may be challenged by disabilities to participate fully in the learning process. Bradford was under therapy for an emotional disturbance. The team learning experience enabled him to control his behavior and work with other learners. Some have criticized the team format in that it might hold the very talented behind. We counter that by saying in the real world leadership requires CEOs to be able to ensure that all workers are making appropriate contributions to the world of work they may be overseeing. Therefore teaming allows all learners to, in effect, put their best foot forward in a collective effort. A true leader gets the best out of the most talented and least talented staff member. Teaming educates all learners in these essential skills.

The introduction of digital technology into our lives has created a different kind of learner. Teaming takes advantage of the new learning style and ensures all members of the group are able to participate at a fuller level. In effect, teaming is one for all and all for one as the team works towards specific objectives.

Teamwork requires that all member function using the Foundation Five rules. That is,

  1. Treat others as you would be treated,
  2. Walk the talk, that is do what you say you will do,
  3. Respect all others ideas and opinions.
  4. Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, and
  5. Hang together not separately.

Teamwork ensures that all learners are participating in the learning process and reap the reward of achievement together. True team learning ensures that no learner is left behind.

6 Responses

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  3. […] some instances we have excellent programs that are producing leading students, but far too …Via etcjournal.com GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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  6. I think 21st century education using technology as much as possible will give America the cutting edge for the future because the gadgets such as the ipods really keep the kids involved with their learning.

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