||Learning Futures worked closely with international partners – the High Tech High schools in San Diego, California – to apply rigour to the design and execution processes, jointly creating a teachers‟
￼14 John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Macmillan (1916)
guide to project-based learning15. Emerging from this partnership are three critical pedagogic elements that make the difference between student work that ticks the necessary boxes, and work that students take pride in because of its excellence16:
1. The use of multiple drafts – Students understand that, in real life, the end-product is almost never the first draft. Using multiple drafts makes the learning visible, and enables the student to see their progress towards excellence.
2. The use of peer (and expert) critique – Critique supports the process of drafting, and deepens the learning conversation. Talking about exemplary work raises student expectations and instils critical thinking.
3. The public presentation of projects – Nothing makes the learning more authentic than having literally to „stand by‟ your work and be interrogated by experts from the local community.
Case Study: Cramlington Learning Village, Northumberland
At Cramlington Learning Village in Northumberland, North East England, almost 200 students spent an entire week working on projects based around the theme of „sustainability‟. Working in small groups, students could choose between a diverse range of issues and disciplines. One group of students chose to investigate the history, geography and culture of people and places along the river Tyne, presenting their findings through music, film, drama and art. They set up a Skype link to Nagarjuna Academy, Cramlington‟s partner school in Nepal, where students from Kathmandu explained the human importance of their great river, the Bagmati. As the project leader observed, “This was a brilliant way of teaching students that rivers are vital for people all over the world, and often in very different ways”. They interviewed ex-miners and shipyard workers, as well as people who now earn their living along the river, asking important questions about the power of place, of dialects, and of belonging. The stories, images and music captured and re-created by the students were made publicly available through blogs and Twitter feeds, making the learning both porous and pervasive. Members of the public were intrigued to see QR codes appearing throughout the week at various landmarks along the river. Accessing these codes took the visitor to the particular banner, song or essay that the students had created. The climax of the week was a presentation at the Cramlington Festival of Learning – having such public presentation of their work was a powerful motivating force for students.
When done well, the power of such projects is clear to all involved, though teacher concerns about „content coverage‟ persist. LF takes the view that project-based learning needs to be complemented with more conventional knowledge-based teaching. It is the blend which is key. When asked, both students and staff felt that project-based learning should be blended with more conventional teaching at a ration of around 60:40. This is an entirely unscientific perception – or preference. It would seem to be an area which would benefit enormously from systematic research and reflection; and indeed may be context sensitive (not least in terms of the stage of development of a school or system; and the degree to which teachers have developed expertise in the method). Another of the Learning Futures schools, Monkseaton High School, has blended enquiry with Spaced Learning17 – a content-rich pedagogy which is based upon neuro-scientific research on how memories „stick‟ – and student outcomes in this particular blend have been highly impressive.