Ross Cooper

Principal or Asst Prin - Elem

Nyack, NY

Interests: Active and...

  • Posted 1 Year ago
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You're Not Doing It Wrong, You're Doing It Differently

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“All this time, I was doing it wrong.”

Since Erin and I released Hacking Project Based Learning this past December, we have been happy to hear from teachers and students who are benefiting from what we wrote. At the same time, we have received several messages that look like the one above. These are messages in which readers imply our book, and the #HackingPBL framework, is the one way to do to project based learning (PBL). And, since they weren’t doing it this way, they were falling short.

Here are a few thoughts I have on situations such as these.

1. Generally, There’s No One Right Way to Do Anything

Erin I set out to create a go-to resource/accessible framework for educators and students, with a simple, clear path they can follow to achieve success. While there are some “rights” and “wrongs” within the context of this framework (which we can claim, because it is ours), we designed it while taking a look at research from the likes of Buck Institute for Education, Getting Smart, and Understanding By Design, to name a few. However, there is a chance the “PBL beliefs” of the educators behind these organizations/frameworks (and the beliefs of teachers reading a book on this topic) may disagree with ours, and vice versa. Generally, this doesn’t mean someone is right and someone is wrong, it’s just a different way of doing things with some ways being more advantageous based on context. The same idea applies to any topic, both in and out of education. For example, two educators at the forefront of innovation in education are George Couros and A.J. Juliani. While their words on this subject certainly carry more weight than most, thousands of educators contribute to and mold this conversation on a daily basis.

2. Yes, but There Are Some Rights and Wrongs

In a previous post, “Should Practitioners Ignore Researchers?,” I made the distinction between practitioners adapting research to meet students’ needs and practitioners pretending like the research doesn’t exist. The key quote from this post was, “There’s an unmistakable difference between educators making research work for their students vs. educators ignoring research altogether. While the former is ideal, the latter is pedagogically indefensible.” That being said, here are three PBL statements (which are somewhat hot topics) that I believe are factually wrong: there’s absolutely no way to have students tackle academic standards while engaged in PBL; there’s no place for direct instruction during PBL; grades, not feedback, should be leveraged to drive student learning. So, if a reader were to tell me that he previously held one of these beliefs or committed one of these actions, then yes, he was wrong. But, who cares? We’ve all been wrong at one point or another and it’s all part of the learning process. The problem is if/when we decide to be ignorant of the facts and overwhelming research that is staring us right in the face.

3. Everyone's Growth Is in a Different Place

This line serves as the basis for a powerful, recent blog post by one of my colleagues, Amber Teamann, an elementary school principal out of Wylie, Texas. The first few lines of the post resonate with me:

Reality check: Through your evolution as an educator, you will find yourself at different stages of growth. Recognizing and owning that your needs and strengths are going to evolve is critical to maintaining not only your sanity, but also your trajectory as a professional.

In short, it’s impossible to focus on everything at the same time; we must prioritize based on where we are in our careers and possibly our personal lives…When we’re well-versed in a certain area (such as project based learning), it’s our duty to have empathy for those who are trying to reach a level of understanding that we may have achieved a few years ago. Discrepancies in knowledge aren’t necessarily because one person is smarter than the other, but simply because we all have different priorities at different points in time. In fact, for every Hacking Project Based Learning reader who claims he did something “wrong,” I am certain I could find an educational topic on which he could easily make me look like a fool. And, I can rattle off the names of countless educators who routinely work with me on subjects in which they are experts and I am a novice.

In the End

If we are quick to discredit our own actions because an “expert” disagrees, then we’re not thinking critically about what we consume and we’re not embracing our own iterative process.

On the long, windy road to our current beliefs, Erin and I encountered countless obstacles and hurdles. Even now, some may disagree with what we have to say, and in a few years there’s a strong chance we won’t agree with all of our current opinions. Because, in reality, even when we think we have it “right,” we can always do better.

How do you think critically about what you consume? How do you embrace your own iterative process?

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