At first glance, problem-based learning (PBL) seems like a great way to encourage deep learning on a subject. Essentially, students work to solve problems, without already-given information, dimensions, or data like you would normally find in the textbooks of today. In necessitates inquiry, holistic approaches to finding solutions, and an understanding that there are many more ways than one to solve a problem.
Project-based learning aims to do much of the same thing. This time there is an emphasis on group work. Students work in teams to examine real-world situations and problems, and devise solutions. They then give presentations to their group or class to report their findings.
Together these two models can promote interdependence, deep-thinking, innovation, creativity, self-concept and self-esteem, the list goes on. One thing, though. If you find yourself in a group of people to which you are not compatible, the entire process can collapse. This is a situation that many students find themselves in, in all levels of education. If you don’t mesh with your group members, being creative, innovative, bouncing ideas off one another, working as a team, all become more difficult.
In his book The Element, Ken Robinson writes about the necessity of finding your “tribe.” A tribe is a group of like-minded people, people who share the same interest that you do, who know the same things as you do, and, possibly more. It’s easy to see how this would be relevant to schools. If students were working with others as passionate about their interests as they were, they would be more motivated, feel more confident, and arguably would be more innovative and creative, being able to bounce ideas off of other students that understand them, instead of being on the defensive end of work that they believe in and value, but that others do not.
We very rarely find this in schools. Not to blame education here, though. It’s not easy to find other people that are interested in passionately inquiring about the same topics. What’s more, adolescence (in particular) is rapt with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty about individuality. It makes sense, then, that one would not would not want to expose a deeply-held passion or value in something, for another to devalue, make fun of, or undermine.
- How and what ways can we build “tribes” of students that share common interests, in order to pursue inquiry and project/problem-based learning with equal passion and commitment?
- Do we need to restructure schools for this?
- Is it a matter of teaching students to find all interests equally valuable and interesting, therefore creating safe spaces for every student? Is this possible?