Schools/programs such as Iowa BIG and Waukee APEX reflect efforts to reform education going back more than 100 years. While the people running these programs might not agree, there is a lot of similarity to vocational programs many of us grew up with. Even before moving on to teacher education, I explored ways to let my 8th grade students pursue their passions within the context of “traditional school” (see 2010 project, update, and student perspective). These experiences were amazing to watch and be a part of as a teacher and when you see the student perspectives, the students clearly enjoyed the freedom as well. Although, some students were stuck inside the “school project” framework, other students were building things, communicating with experts, and designing solutions to problems.
This has me thinking. If all schools were to become like Iowa BIG, Waukee APEX, or the Dewey School, what would happen to teacher education?
Thankfully, lesson planning would receive much less attention. WOW do we waste a lot of time getting students to fill out a template that they will probably never use again. In a PBL school, lesson plans in the traditional sense don’t make a lot of sense. Similarly, we could stop focusing on differentiation as some sort of panacea for learning. When students have choice and are working on a variety of projects, differentiation is inherent.
Instead, teacher education would need to be about learning how to react with students to emerging problems and learning hurdles. To react quickly in an educative capacity, teachers will need a flexible understanding of how people think and learn and an ability to pose questions to guide student problem-solving. The teachers will also need an expanded view of what it means to assess students. When projects and problems are not the same, we don’t get to use the same measuring stick on all students. Maybe the standards-based movement is taking us in the wrong direction.
The content of these schools/programs is likely to move away from traditional subjects. Instead, the content we’ll teach is around learning and thinking. Maybe philosophy will re-enter the curriculum.
Honestly, I don’t know that the way I teach teachers will change that much. I’ve always been less concerned about the content and more concerned about how to help students think more critically. I put little emphasis on planning and much greater emphasis on the action of teaching. It is the action of teaching (well, effective teaching anyway) that will remain in any educational experience.
Yet, even in high-level PBL schools/programs, I suspect teachers may fall into the old trap of doing much of the thinking for students because the projects will be interesting. Indeed, when I do projects with my students, I have to actively fight the urge to jump in with “let’s try it this way”. Recently, I observed some medical doctors working with their residents and medical students (a high level of PBL) and I noticed that the attending doctors would run through checklists instead of asking, “What else should we check?”
In a very real way, teacher education must prepare teachers who look at schools like Iowa BIG and the Waukee APEX program and say, “yep, that makes sense”. Much like some teacher education programs do now, a focus will need to be placed on changing new teachers’ view of the very nature of teaching. Teachers must develop an intuition that their job is less about their thinking and more about their students’ thinking. Teaching is not explaining or problem-solving, teaching is helping someone else explain or problem-solve.