Over the last ten years, I have advocated in writing and speaking that Christian schools move toward project based learning. Why? Well, you can easily find plenty of rationale on sites like the Buck Institute or Edutopia online, but here are a few reasons reflecting a student perspective:
- It is more like real life
- It is more fun/engaging
- It is coherent and makes more sense
- It allows me to use and develop my gifts
- It sticks with me longer than memorized learning
I have argued that not only is this type of learning “stickier” but also better reflects our belief as Christian educators that learning should reflect the coherence Christ brings to this world, and it allows students as image-bearers to identify and practice gifts and habits of service. I believe it moves us toward the goal of helping students to flourish (link) in their lives.
One person who has understood and advocated for the value of project based learning for a long time is the retired principal of Toronto District Christian HS, and current Ontario Christian School Adminstrators leader, Ren Siebenga. Ren’s son, Nathan, principal at Hamilton District Christian HS, has implemented PBL there, and is also now co-hosting a summer academy for teachers (see below). I had the opportunity to speak with Nathan about what has been transpiring at his school and he shared the following with me.
What has impressed him most is the change in his students: the ability of kids to understand and articulate the mission of the school and to be deeply engaged in learning. He enthusiastically stated: “The kids’ ability to articulate the mission of the school through the project is life changing, kids can’t be the same. Our level of engagement of kids in their learning is incredible! It is kids running in the door in the morning.” In fact, Nathan noted that HDCH had to institute a late bus last year that ran at 5:30 so that kids could get home after their work sessions!
Nathan indicated that new teachers don’t have a lot of experience in PBL, and so he instituted a summer “boot camp” for training teachers and then opened it up – the result being that 25 teachers from all over attended. At the end of the week of the PBL training last summer, building principals were invited to come and hear the presentations of learning by the teachers. This helped the principals to provide follow-up support throughout the year. Nathan expects 50-75 teachers to attend this year and the academy will be offering a second level of training. Co-sponsors of the event are Edifide, OACS, OCSA and CCEF (Canadian Christian Education Foundation). It is exciting to see how these four groups are working together to lead Christian education forward in Ontario, thanks to the vision and teamwork of leaders such as Diane Stronks, Jules DeJager, and Ren Siebenga.
PBL is in its fourth year at HDCH and Siebenga notes that at this point all staff are doing one project and are involved in exhibition of learning. The school-wide exhibition of learning is held every semester for the whole community from 6 – 9 p.m.
PBL is also being advanced across Ontario Christian schools by Diane Stronks, Director of Edifide, and OACS’s new Director of Learning, Justin Cook. Justin has done a great job of leading, recording, and reporting the PBL work that has been done with Ontario teachers in four regional training sessions this past year. You can view his summaries here http://www.oacs.org/author/justinc/ to see the work of the teachers he is spotlighting and the excellent presentation Prezis he has put together.
Ontario Christian schools have a legacy of producing thoughtful, biblically integrated curriculum for Christian schools and now through bold leaders, vision, and teamwork are producing excellent models to lead Christian educational practice into the future. Keep up the great work!