cross posted at Tech&Learning Magazine
I went to college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, WPI, and majored in Aerospace Engineering. I worked for 10 years as an engineer before becoming a physics teacher. WPI has a unique curriculum, called the WPI Plan, consisting of 4 quarters instead of 2 semesters, 3 large projects, and course curriculum that are mainly project based. Each undergraduate has to complete a Humanities Sufficiency Project, and Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) and a Major Qualifying Project (MQP). The Sufficiency is a 3 credit project and course sequence in the humanities which ensures that all WPI graduates are well rounded. The IQP is a 9 credit project done in the junior year which relates science and technology to society and the MQP is a 9 credit project done in the senior year similar to a Master's thesis. The project based curriculum helps students learn content and develop problem solving, communications, and teamwork skills. It also helps develop ethics and responsibility in the students. I found that my WPI education has prepared me for my career as an engineer, as well as an educator, and served me well in many capacities.
This is the type of plan I try to use with my Physics students. I try to do as many labs, projects, and activities as I can because I know how well that works. The students are more engaged and tend to learn and remember concepts better. Project based learning is been proven to be a great way to educate students. In fact, WPI has done research on this topic. My IQP was on the quality of technical education in the US and we found that the students who did best in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors and careers were the ones who had a good background in high school, including collaborative projects. Other research at WPI has shown the same thing. Many educators and educational institutions also have shown that project based learning is a very effective way to teach and learn STEM topics.
WPI's Mechanical Engineering Department also has a great classroom called the Discovery Classroom. It is a lecture-style room with large tables for the students. It has multimedia capabilities, laptops for the students to use, and a room off to the side which contains equipment for demonstrations. This took a plain lecture hall and turned it into an interactive learning room.
WPI also has some great programs for incoming freshmen to introduce them to the school and STEM topics and help prepare them for the rest of college. High Schools would do well to have similar programs that would help freshmen obtain the skills necessary to be successful in high school.
Other colleges have similar programs that emphasize group projects, the interaction of technology and society and a base in the humanities. High schools have also been moving more and more towards project based learning because it has been proven to work.
K-12 education should take notice of some of the great and innovative things that colleges are doing and adapt them to their own schools. Many colleges have K-12 outreach programs and schools should take advantage of these.
I am also an Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts. I learned a lot in the Boy Scouts besides certain skills in camping, hiking, and the like. I learned how to work as a team, how to be a leader, and how to plan things. In Boy Scouts, the adults are advisors and the scouts do the planning and running of events, training, and campouts. As an Assistant Scoutmaster, I worked with a group of 5 boys who planned and carried out a Camporee for over 500 scouts. The Boy Scouts aren't afraid to let the boys take charge and lead. The adults will step in when necessary, but the boys learn a lot by their mistakes too. The older, more experienced scouts help teach the younger, newer scouts. Discipline is also handled by older scouts and things run very smoothly.
I think schools should do more to let students make decisions and run things. Let the students come up with ideas for lessons, projects, programs and more. Let them lead these projects and have the teachers advise them. The students will learn valuable skills and feel what it is like to take charge of a situation. Have students teach and tutor other students. Have upperclassmen be mentors to the underclassmen.
Some schools already do these things, but others would do well to look outside for ideas for new and innovative programs. Colleges, youth groups, the military, and even business and industry have plenty of great programs and ideas for doing things. Many of them can be brought into K-12 education and can be used to improve student engagement, achievement, and skills building. We have a large number of problems in schools now, and educators have to be creative in coming up with ways to address them. Look to these other organizations for ideas and help. We don't have to do it on our own.
Please share your ideas of things from outside education that could be used inside education.