Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Authentic Learning

I kind of hate the buzz-acronym "PBL." But the educational paradigm it represents is one of the most compelling in education. When I think of the most powerful experiences I have had as an educator learning my trade, all of them were situations that required solving problems, real problems. They were authentic learning experiences, learning that happened because it had to, because there was no other option. When people ask me how I got into education, I think immediately back to a student I taught during my internship at public high school in Miami, Coral Gables High School.

My students had to deliver oral reports as part of a summary project for Romeo and Juliet. I had a student, Elmore, who had such a paralyzing stutter that he could not speak. Amazingly, he was a gifted rapper who regularly attracted crowds of kids during breaks to hear his latest songs. I imagined that he might do a Romeo and Juliet rap as his final project. Now, 17 years later when I hear presenters talk about technology they say "meet the kids where they are." That's what I did. He rapped the most magnificent final project about the complications facing the two young lovers in the play that his classmates stood on the seats of their desks to applaud when he was done. It was then that I knew I wanted to teach.

While that experience doesn't fit the definition of PBL, project-based learning, in the classic sense, it was a moment when I was compelled as a teacher to solve a problem to support student learning and engagement.
That experience was powerful and arguably one that shaped the course of my working life.

I know experiential learning is powerful. I know engaging students in the process of authentic learning is a requisite part of making our teaching have resonance. The high school in the video below is one that is exploring ways to offer big world problem solving as core experiences in teaching, a critical change that needs to happen in formal education on a large scale.

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