“One of the most unusual aspects of the Oakland program is the way in which students proceed through increasingly complex school and work-based projects, with decreasing coaching and scaffolding on the part of the teachers and industry partners... In their three years in the program, Oakland students are expected to make progress along three major trajectories: 1) from doing small, short-term projects under the tutelage of a teacher of a specific course, to completing longer term integrative projects that cross curricular boundaries and draw on the expertise of industry partners; 2) from handling projects with a lot of specific work requirements, to tackling more open-ended projects with more room for student choice and creativity; and 3) from demonstrating knowledge or skills they have been taught, to undertaking projects of personal interest that make a contribution to a larger audience” (Steinberg, 1998, p. 10).
I really enjoyed the Steinberg selection because of the insider’s look into three successful models of project-based learning. The Oakland Health Academy utilizes a strategy I particularly like: students begin with smaller, focused projects before moving into larger, integrated (and increasingly self-designed) projects. This makes sense to me. If I am part of a project-based school, I should also be scaffolding students’ practice in designing their own projects. (By the way... I noticed that in Rob’s Three Integrations “Teacher as Designer” was no longer included. Is this a recent change in the HTH philosophy?) THIS additional awareness of explicitly communicating the elements and practices of project design might be part of what I feel is missing upon graduation. Students have been immersed in a smorgasbord of projects and have a loose sense of what makes a good project, but I’m not sure that they would be able to clearly articulate and demonstrate it before they leave in a fashion that demonstrates an approaching mastery. Clearly, if a senior project or “Endersession” truly required students to demonstrate their ability to design (vs. simply fulfill) a project, this would be an evaluation of their personal understanding of project-based learning. As Steinberg notes, the ability to design and carry out a project is an essential life/workplace skill... And it’s not easy! That’s why we’re all in this class, I guess. ;) In sum, the summary of the practices at the Oakland Health Academy led me to rethink the way I scaffold understanding of not just content or content-related skills, but of project design.