The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

Today, I’m in Columbus, Ohio at the Prevention Action Alliance 2017 Adult Allies Summit. I’m excited to present here, among so many people who see themselves and their work as essential to the lives of youth, because they’re taking the right tact.

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

My research through The Freechild Project has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Project Management; Time Management; Organization; Teamwork; Research; Procurement, and; Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

 

You Might Also Be Interested In…

Elsewhere Online

  • THE FREECHILD PROJECT—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. My 15-year project with examples, resources and more.
  • EDUTOPIA—Our vision is of a new world of learning based on the compelling truth that improving education is the key to the survival of the human race. Lots of Project Based Learning resources.

 

Engage or Die

Its cliche to say we live in trying times. But suffering is never cliche, and social justice isn’t a fad.

The Challenge

More than ever, people need to connect and make meaning of their own life. If we were merely passive recipients of a pre-made society, we wouldn’t need connections beyond those that are obviously beneficial to us, and any meaning in our lives could be dictated to us from a form.

We’re not just consumers though. Despite what some schools, business leaders and elected officials tell us, our society is not a product for anyone to consume. Instead, we are all actively making our lives right now – no matter what the rat race looks like for any of us.

Unfortunately, that idea of people-as-consumers may be winning right now. We eat food that’s pre-made; memorize lessons from curriculum that’s mass manufactured; follow regulations intended to standardize our everyday lives; and buy things that weren’t made for individuals, but for consumers.

 

Transformation Is Required

More than ever, its become obvious that things have to change. We must engage or die. Over the last decade, I’ve researched engagement throughout our society to learn that the places with the most meaningful, most sustainable connections are the most engaged. I believe we must take action to engage as many people as possible everywhere we can, as often as we can, or we face individual, cultural, and ultimately, social death. The end of our society. The end of our communities. The end of our lives.

Our communities, classrooms, cultures and homes have to be places of active, meaningful and authentic engagement. Our souls must be lifted and our hearts connected through determination and intention, and our volitions need to be called to a higher place. Instead of working from a place of crass consumerism, we should acknowledge the place of movement calling our hands and feet beyond apathy and into action. All of this must be sustained throughout the future of our species.

If we don’t do something different, our hearts will rot on the vine, our muscles will wither from atrophy, and our minds will shrink from starvation. For some people that’s already happened; for others its happening right now. We have to intervene, prevent and empower people to do things differently right now.

Three Crises

There are countless areas where we must connect in our world. Neighborhoods require our attention; governments need us. Faith communities rely on engagement; social change is sacrosanct in my book.

Here are three crises in particular where we face the ultimatum to ENGAGE OR DIE.

  1. Education: If we don’t activate everyoneeverywhere as active learners right now, we face the whole system decimation of education throughout our society. While a lot of attention is given to public schools right now, the reality is that higher education, community centers and nonprofits are suffering right now, and things will only get worse. We must engage in education or we will die.
  2. Family: Our families are suffering for many reasons. A lot of people are talking about the elimination of the middle class and the effects that’s having on families. However, we must also acknowledge the roles of the human family; our larger communities; and the need to acknowledge nontraditional families. We must engage with the notion of family or we will die.
  3. Health: I don’t work out enough. Sure, I walk a lot and eat healthy, stay away from drinking and staying out too late. Our health is a lot more than any of that though: instead, its the ecology that surrounds each of us. Food, water, shelter, sleep and oxygen are essential. The rhythms, cultures, thoughts, emotions and abilities around us are part of our health, too. If we don’t engage in health, we will die.

If you’re interested in having a conversation about what we can do about this, get in touch with me. I would like to facilitate workshops with all kinds of nonprofits, give talks at a variety of conferences, and reach into the hearts and minds of people everywhere who want to engage or die. Contact me for more details.

 

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Yelling Into A Vacuum: The World Is Busy Changing

 

There are a lot of people working to change the world right now. They’re caught up in writing the Great Handbook, building the Perfect Website, organizing the Ultimate Protest, and securing the Most Support for whatever they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re doing their part, hopes they have the most effect, and wants to make a difference.

I’m one of these people. For most than two decades of my life I’ve been working to change change the world. Starting as a young man, I was involved with movements for environmental justice, self-empowerment, anti-racism, and youth voice. My career has built on that action, and has focused on youth engagement, student voice, and community empowerment. I have continued volunteering and donating my resources towards those causes too.

I’m at a point in my life when much of this action seems like its no longer effective, and some part of me struggles with whether it actually was. I even wonder who reads this blog anymore, since I rarely hear from anyone.

In my 20s, I heard a lot of older people harp on the notion of acting locally and really focusing energy on local change. I blew that out of the water with my world-focused work through Freechild and SoundOut, as well as my national and international consulting practice. Now, I understand why they insisted on acting locally; otherwise, you feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum.

The noisy, noisy world doesn’t allow us a lot of room for comfort, if we’re engaged authentically within ourselves. It insists we learn to get quiet and do small things, rather than trying to scream over the din of daily life.

This work of changing the world reminds me of the lesson about the seekers: “Not knowing how close the truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar — what a pity! They are like those who, being in the midst of water, Cry out for water, feeling thirst.”

The world is already changing, and a new world is being born every day! Let’s take comfort in that, and allow everything to be what it already is. The world is changing, changing, changing… Is there anything more we need to do?

 


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