'Project based learning' and the upper levels of Blooms taxonomy 'synthesis and evaluation' are what I wan to look at here.

If you are reading this, you probably teach. As teachers how much do we believe the research. Brain research, Bloom, Constructivism.... the list goes on, but if you are like me you are after one thing - bang for buck. Our 'bucks' are all limited, unless you have some bottomless 'Gates foundation Grant' that you are not telling us about. So, how do we get the most educational 'bang' for our rapidly disappearing educational 'buck' (let's hope we in California get our January paycheck!!)
All the studies say 'kick in those higher order thinking skills (HOTS)' depth over breadth, create authentic learners, but most of us are handcuffed by tow-the-party-line curriculums that, at best, provide for some occasional analysis.... but synthesis and evaluation, ha! Never! "Project based learning where students create and find meaning"-- those words sound like some alien language. Excuse me, where do I find the multiple choice test for that? What, no test.......... WHAT, NO ANSWER KEY!!!!

So, theatrics aside, what do you do to go above and beyond? What do you do to get some REAL bang for buck? . Let us know what you do.... because you know you do something or else you wouldn't have read this far. Share. I do this -- riosclass.com -- but I don't know if it is enough.

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Great topic!!! - but tough. I have been struggling with this very question for years now. This is always a central concern and I think that I have always operated towards solutions that are relevant to my own experience as an educator. Just recently I have taken a more "research-based approach" towards education, consulting with other K12 educators, professors in education and psychologists. I just recently had a lengthy conversation with a cognitive psychologist on the subject of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and what (if any) impact they may have on learning. Gardner's MIs have come under fire as of late (even by Gardner himself) and so the challenge of finding something prudent in this regard has been difficult. The psychologist I spoke to did make three very salient points though;

1) Learning is only effective if it can be measured for impact in a real-life situation
To me, this means that, while project-based learning is a great way to encourage higher-level Bloom's applications, it is not an effective treatment of knowledge (or assessment of understanding of knowledge) unless the application is "real-world relevant" - ie External Validity

2) Absorbed information does not mean that information is understood
We all know this - if a student memorizes information, it does not necessarily mean that it is universally understood or that it can be applied in a specific situation. What surprised me here, though, is the cognitive importance of exercising crystallized memory tasks - rote memorization, if you will. In a digital society where information is so accessible, it seems to be the Spartacus-like call to arms to throw memorization tasks by the wayside in favor of skills that better appeal to problem-solving or data mining. Psychologists tend to frown on this, indicating that there is still tremendous benefit to memorizing information, even if it is not understood. As we age, we rely less on fluid intelligence and more on crystallized intelligence. For this reason, there is a perceived benefit to allow our students to utilize fluid intelligence to create crystallized knowledge - but to also have them assess through both fluid and crystallized intelligence tasks.

3) Open-ended learning tasks should be distilled.
Our students are "students" for a very good reason. While it has become something of a modern educational fad to create open-ended learning tasks with unlimited access to resources, it can sometimes be dangerous to knock down our guide walls so quickly. Students' minds are capable of acting, unfettered, on any environmental stimulus, but the measurable outcome of that act must be directed somehow. This is not to say that open-ended questioning and unlimited resource tasks are a bad thing ... it is just best to try to make this part of the over-arching educational philosophy of your school or building and to start each year, course, unit off with guided instruction so that students understand the crucial processes involved in building knowledge and understanding through project-based learning.

All of this is philosophy and conjecture from one conversation with one cognitive specialist. But the ideas make sense. It's not that we need to tear down our past educational ways in order to build up a new future methodology...it is also not a case where we need to abandon all of the bright and shiny new ideas that seem perched on the horizon, particularly as a result of a new digital culture - In my humble and (admittedly) amateurish opinion, we need only look for the areas of overlap, listen to our kids, put thought into our assessments and pay careful attention to the importance of information, knowledge and understanding.
In a society that believes that standardized testing levels the playing field, which research says it does not, and determines where students go to college or grad school, which determines their potential earnings, "authentic" learning experiences / tasks that mirror real world experiences and tasks are of little value. Society has allowed testing to take over the way it views education: what is taught, how it is taught and why it is taught. Credentialism has overtaken edification and the pleasure of learning. This in turn reinforces society's beliefs about what education and the acquisition of knowledge looks like and is represented by.

The metrics used in education must be reassessed: What is really being measured? What do we as educators & members of society want to measure / value? How do educators and society appropriately measure what it is we want to measure?

I would start a unit or lesson using real world examples that connected my students' lives that in some way relate to the information they were to learn about; after which I would explain to my students the reason(s) why the information I was to present and they were to learn about was worth learning about & understanding (connecting abstract/classical and prior knowledge). There has to be a goodl reason for any person to learn, so the way this connection is created has to be based on the audience: urban, suburban, rural, teenager, adult et al.

Then I would ask my students to know / memorize specific data and facts (rote); after which I would guide them through the uses for the data and facts they had, hopefully, memorized in a real world situations (context).

I would then finish the unit or lesson by asking my students to use the data and facts they knew or had memorized and connect that information with a real world scenario that may have been historical or contemporary in nature (debriefing /assessment).

This would allow my students to connect for themselves prior and critical knowledge with abstract and classical knowledge. Assessment is based on their ability to use abstract / classical knowledge to analyze their prior and critical knowledge or visa versa. It was a way of asking students to question their own assumptions and those of others based on data and facts in real world situations. Assessments can take the form of creating structures out of equations (math); playing imperialism / stock market / cold war games (social studies); publishing a student / community newspaper (language arts); making nylon or diagnosing genetic diseases (chemistry or biology). It is amazing how much students want to talk about the assessment pieces and how it affected their thinking and various ways of using what they have learned about themselves and the world around them.

The question has to be do we value symbols or representations of intelligence, aptitude and learning, like IQ tests and SAT tests, or do we value the real thing in the real world.

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