Don’t Let Gorillas Live in Mountains!

 When teachers plan projects, where do they start? In my experience, they are often in a hurry to label the final product. Too many times, I heard teachers say, “I want them to do something in Wixie”, or “I want them create a Photostory on something”. Is that what projects are about – the product? What exactly is that “something”?

Recently, a teacher asked me to help her students record their voices for Georgia Regions projects. Both, the teacher and her students, seemed to be extremely proud of them, so I instantly got that “gotta see it” feeling. Then I opened a project. It was named “Blue Ridge of Georgia.” The very first slide had a gorgeous image of mountains with a huge, black… gorilla, sitting on the top of it! When I asked the student why he chose the gorilla, he proudly announced, “Because it lives in mountains.” “In Georgia?” I was still hoping he would catch his mistake. “Yes, in Blue Ridge, I found it in the stickers folder,” was his answer.

Well, even though I think a third grader should have done a better research than looking in a sticker folder, but what bothered me the most was the teacher’s response to my concern about the poorly executed research.  She simply said, “This is just their first project; I just wanted them to learn Wixie.”

This class spent about five hours in the computer lab, but what did the students learn? Was the process effective and worth the time? What was the purpose of the lesson? Learn Wixie tools?

Many teachers declare they integrate technology nowadays, but what they really do is use it to replace their favorite worksheets – “here is the task, go do it” kind of instruction. 

A product and project-based learning are two different things. The process of creating a product is project-based learning, and teachers’ role in this process is crucial. This is the time to plan thoroughly, coach diligently, monitor constantly, inspire, and teach students think, deeply and independently. This is the time when we don’t let gorillas settle in mountains…

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