The KQED blog in San Francisco that covered my using inquiry-driven project-based learning teaching entrepreneurship at NYU recently covered something more remarkable: a student-created program in a high-school where the students create and do their projects on their schedule.
The article, “This Is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like,” speaks for itself, describing how a Massachusetts high school student saw engagement and mastery lacking in his classmates at his high school and proposed a program to use project-based learning to evoke it. I recommend reading it if you are interested in leadership, motivation, education, and how to improve any of them.
The article alluded to but didn’t spell out a major enduring benefit of that style of learning that I want to point out. It said students who have gone through the program “became better at managing their time.”
Readers of this blog know statements about how much time you have are statements about priorities and values. When someone says they wish they had more time for something, they mean they prioritize something else more—if they didn’t do the other things keeping them from it, they’d have time. When they say they can’t manage their time, they’re saying they don’t know their priorities—if they knew what they valued most, they’d work on their priorities.
Most people don’t understand the connection between time and values. They blame time—a part of nature they have no control over—for their ignorance and confusion. People who do what they only wish they could have no more time in their days and live just as short lives.
When the article says students managed their time better, that means they understood and acted on their priorities and values better. Knowing your priorities and values better means you can create meaning, value, importance, and purpose in your life better, and in the lives of those around you better too.
How would a high-school program teach values? First let’s see how a lecture-based program can stifle learning values. In a lecture-based program the teacher decides what’s important, on what schedule to work, and what information is relevant. For that matter, that style decides that information is important—the most important thing to learn. That style tells the student what to value. It deprives the student of the chance to work out their values. If the student has different values, imposing the teacher’s values on them motivates them to rebel, disengage, or something similar. Since you can’t expect everyone to agree on all these values, lecture-based teaching motivates them to rebel and disengage. The institution views this rebellion as a disciplinary issue. I view it as a necessary consequence of imposing values on a student (I don’t mean to imply that other teaching styles don’t have other challenges and problems).
The program the article described forces students to figure out their priorities in several ways. Since they have to finish something and no one else is figuring out their schedule for them, they have to figure out their schedule, which means figuring out their priorities. That’s part of the project-based part. They also have to choose to work on something they’ll feel motivated to complete, which means they have to figure out what motivates them. That’s part of the inquiry-driven part.
I expect this style of teaching teaches far more than mere academic information. I expect they emerge with leadership skills many people don’t develop until they enter the working world.