Exploring the Project-Based-Learning approach in Queensland

Published: Tuesday 27 February 2018

The QLD Chapter’s new joint chairs, Katerina Dracopoulos & Rachel Towill, & their committee are taking members on a narrative throughout 2018, based on LEA’s 3 strategic pillars:
1.   Advocacy
2.   Professional Development
3.   Research

Rachel Towill and Katerina Dracopoulos

Commencing the 'Advocacy' narrative, the Chapter held a screening on February 21 of the acclaimed documentary "Most Likely to Succeed", followed by a revealing Q&A session. Over 70 people attended.

The film explores how education standards started, the relevance of the current teaching and examining processes, and where the job market is heading. Then it elaborates on how and why a PBL (Project Based Learning) approach is adopted in a new American School 'High Tech High" (HTH) to produce students better prepared for the world ahead.

"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob ourselves of tomorrow" quotes John Dewey.

This school is of the belief that the education system has fallen behind, as many 'traditional jobs' will be lost in the foreseeable future.Computers and robots are already taking the middle income jobs in manufacturing, production and the like. The prediction is that the jobs of accountants, solicitors, some doctors & higher income occupations will be lost within 30 years.

So, why do we keep teaching subjects in the same rigid manner, with content that is never used after school and for occupations that will soon vanish?
This HTH school teaches by Socratic Seminars, or in simplistic terms, PBL (Project Based Learning).

The event's MC Derek Bartels observed that he had visited this HTH school on a few occasions and that this school is not elitist, is all inclusive and is neither high tech nor high. 50% of students are from low income families, student enter by lottery selection, there is no bell, no class periods and teachers are selected & teach whatever they want in their own field of passion. The graduating students of HTH have a higher than normal College acceptance, their retention rate at college & the work force is above average, and their self respect and personal growth is exceptional. Both students and parents are full of praise for this new approach.

But, is this approach accepted in Australia?


Panel and audience at the QLD screening

This film was directly followed by a panel of educators, parent and architects of the Living Faith Lutheran Primary School. The school started 17-18 years ago, but 5-6 years ago this school adopted this similar PBL approach to teaching, with improved results. Set rooms have changed to open space environments with mountain tops / water holes / camp fire / etc style meeting areas. Acoustic treatments had to drastically improve and teachers desks have morphed within the student areas. The parents took some convincing, but the children have adapted and flourished without question.

It is said that education is "more about gardening than engineering". In a garden, if the soil is happy & well nourished, the plants will flourish. The students are flourishing.

For me, this movie and case study was quite drastic, confronting and thought provoking. For example:
A.   If jobs are being lost & changing at such an alarming rate, what should students be taught?
B.   If computers & robots are a major factor in our future, what will humans be doing in the future?
C.   If PBL is producing greater student results, why isn't this being phased into all schools?
D.   With what subjects can we best educate our students? With soft skills, time management & collaboration?

For Stage 2 of the “Advocacy” narrative, we will be visiting the Living Faith Lutheran Primary School on March 14 to see this PBL in action. You can book your place on tour here.

I am looking forward to this with an open mind, an inquisitive approach, yet with some trepidation.

Article: Ray Giarola
Photos: Derek Bartels