10 Education Truths That Support Project-Based Learning

“What I know for sure is that you feel real joy in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth.” Oprah Winfrey

As a new teacher, I had a lot of ideas about what would work best in my classroom. Then I actually started teaching!

It took years, but there were moments where I would have something resonate so often that it eventually became a learning truth I stood by and based my teaching on. Many of these truths are clear to teachers that have been in the field for a long time, while others might catch you during your first lesson of teaching.

All of the truths I share below make up my educational ethos, or belief set. They formed the foundation for great learning to happen and allowed me to focus on those activities and tasks that would foster deep learning experiences.

Project-based learning was a natural shift in my classroom because of what we believed worked for students. It wasn’t to be flashy. It wasn’t to make everything fun (sometimes it was). Project-based learning was a natural byproduct of thinking about teaching and learning from the standpoint of what actually worked to engage and empower students in the learning process.

10 Learning Truths That Led Me to PBL

1. Learning starts with attention. It’s almost impossible to learn if you aren’t paying attention. And whatever you are giving attention has the ability to turn into learning.

2. Attention happens for two reasons: Necessity and interest. Nature uses necessity to drive quick learning feedback loops. When we try to manufacture necessity (think: you must learn this because of a pop quiz tomorrow) a culture of compliance follows. When we allow for interest to drive attention, commitment to the learning process follows.

3. Relationships directly impact attention, and therefore, learning.

4. Learning happens inside our head. Understanding is demonstrated outside our head.

5. Technology is a byproduct of learning + creativity. Both must be present for technology to exist.

6. Learning has nothing to do with innovation. But innovation has everything to do with learning.

7. Intrinsic motivation will always outperform extrinsic motivation (in the long term) when it comes to learning.

8. Worms are better than strawberries and cream.

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”

Dale Carnegie said this, and I believe it to be exceptionally true when thinking about engaging and empowering our students. What do they prefer? Start with that.

9. Learning doesn’t have to be meaningful and relevant. But, relevant learning experiences draw students in, and meaningful learning experiences stick with them. If you have the choice to make learning meaningful and relevant, you should go the extra mile every time.

10. Learning is wild, it’s messy, it’s free. But, learning also can be driven by limitations. Rules don’t often apply, including these ten.

What are your education truths? 

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Bernard says:

    Thanks for the list. I enjoyed reading this article and in particular points 2 and 3 really resonate with me. For me students need to know why they ought to learn the subject, what practical application will it have for them – once they know that then they’ll be more willing to buy-in to the subject

  • Eileen says:

    Number 5 could use some clarification. I’m not seeing what you mean.

    • Rachel Wastney says:

      Hi Eileen
      I understand number 5 to mean that technology is a tool, it shouldn’t drive the learning. Don’t just use the technology for the sake of using it.
      Technology should help enhance what the students are doing, not dictate, for example if they are doing a lesson that involves reporting back to the class what they have learned, they could do this using a variety of methods: video production; powerpoint production with links to internet, video clips etc.; written report; prezzi; verbal presentation with their own background music; and the list goes on. Students can be very creative if they are left to their own devices and not “told” what to use.
      Sometimes we become overwhelmed with the latest gadget, we forget to ask ourselves: how will this help our students to learn?

  • Laurie Mullin says:

    New teachers sometimes judge those of us who have been in the biz awhile. Because I’m older (more seasoned?), they think I’m stuck in the Middle Ages or something. I loved seeing the looks on their faces when my students were practicing magic acts, rehearsing tap dancing routines, crafting working light sabers, and exploring FloLab to make video games during our 20% time on Fridays. I got students who participated in nothing else all year actually engaged and learning. When they gave their presentations, I didn’t think about time limits because students never want to present. Every student took at least 10 to 15 minutes, but most took more than 20 minutes… of their own free will! Worms do work so much better than strawberries and cream.

    • Lorri Swafford says:

      Wow!! I’d love to be a learner in your classroom! What grade do you teach? Those projects sound amazing!

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