On Learning, Thinking, and Doing: Project Day

On Learning, Thinking, and Doing: Project Day

March 31, 2017

For the past few weeks, our Primary School students have dedicated considerable time and effort to a unit of study known as 'Project Day', which had its formal culmination last Friday. During the afternoon and evening of Project Day, many parents and other family members visited our school to be presented with rich and diverse evidence of excellent learning through the written and spoken words of our students. The student projects presented covered an amazing range of themes and topics.

As both a parent and an educator, I was most proud of the endeavor, energy, and enthusiasm of our students, as they labored to breathe life into their various projects. Not only were students asked to pursue a particular theme for their project to create an artifact, they were also expected to explore what we might call 'other dimensions' of their project, such as composing a piece of persuasive writing about their project. There was an expectation that students would strive to 'join the dots' to create a more complete and connected project, making it a genuine exercise in multidimensional learning. Most importantly, there was an explicit expectation that students would think laterally and deeply about their particular project theme in order to create something tangible.

How did our students feel about this? Perhaps we can best gauge the student perspective through their words and actions last Friday. I observed a strong 'tension in the air' during all of the student presentations, an animated nervousness that betrayed the certainty that our young learners were taking the exercise very seriously indeed. From the student perspective, with teachers, parents, and friends looking on, this was 'real' learning!

Historically, there has always been a very strong connection between learning and thinking about learning in Chinese philosophy. This idea is most memorably expressed in the Confucian Analects with the stern reminder that "Learning without thinking creates confusion 學而不思則罔: (Confucius, 1893 Book II, Chapter 15)". We are reminded that learning without apparent purpose, thought, and reflection is 'lost labour', leaving students feeling confused and cheated. Taking this a step further, learning is a process of change, the evidence of which is found in its fruits: knowledge, skills, and actions. Through the process of learning, and thinking about learning, we make meaning and act; our learning is thus made 'visible' to all, most importantly to the learners themselves.

My thanks go to each of our teachers and leaders who themselves labored to make thinking and learning so memorably visible on Project Day!

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

Confucius. (1893). The Analects (論語). Retrieved from http://www.cnculture.net/ebook/jing/sishu/lunyu_en/02.html 

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