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Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning (some examples from Dewey)
- Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning (some examples from Dewey)
- From: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 08 Sep 2009 17:50:30 +1000
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Very interesting indeed David. You have satisfied my request
for a critical perspective on PBL. Several points.
You would be interested in the last chapter of the Davydov
book, where he talks about what could be ironically called
"guided democracy." I.e., the children are led to
recapitulate the process of discovery of the foundational
concept of a domain of knowledge, but the whole process is
thought out deeply in advance by psychologists, and
orchestrated so that the process is isolated to the greatest
possible extent from the spontaneous day-to-day
consciousness and experience of the pupils (which is seen to
act as a barrier to development of theoretical thinking).
Secondly, I think I may detect in your critique a reaction
to what sounds like a kind of amalgam of neo-liberal
approaches to education with the post-liberal approach CHAT
suggests. By "neo-liberal" I mean the conception of the
education process as one where the customer purchases
knowledge off the service provider, and the customer (who is
always right) determines the form and content of the
knowledge, and pays for it. By "post-liberal," I mean where
the teacher works to engage the student at an ethical and
intellectual level that they can achieve only with assistance.
Does that ring any bells at all?
David H Kirshner wrote:
Bransford, Barron, Pea, et al., 2006, p. 28).
I needed to know if I was missing something and maybe project based learning had some deep flaws that I was missing.
If so, they would surface on XMCA. But I see that this is not the case.
I read your post about PBL earlier and thought of responding from a general critique I am formulating of inquiry based pedagogies, some of which may apply to PBL. From my perspective, the conjoined goals of having students master conceptual content and having them master valued forms of intellectual engagement need to be separated out, both analytically and practically--anathema, I'm sure, to many XMCA participants. Failing to do so, I argue, masks incompatible assumptions underlying the two agendas, and hides the true challenges of such a pedagogical effort.
I outlined my critique in a 2010 AERA proposal. I'm appending the meat of the argument below which relates to the contradictory expectations associated with metacognition in reform instruction. Let me know if you find anything of interest in it.
The pedagogical reform movement sometimes labeled constructivist, social constructivist, student-centered, progressive, or authentic has many variations, but also some general commonalities. Frequently instruction is focused around inquiry groups, communities of learners, knowledge building communities or other such collaborative fora intended to promote deep understanding of conceptual content as well as valued dispositions including autonomy, critical thinking, and creativity (e.g., Brown & Campione, 1994; NRC, 2000, 2005; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003).
Reform instruction typically involves open-ended questions, non-routine problems, or projects that students work on and discuss in collaborative groups. The tasks are chosen for their rich conceptual affordances. Having students’ own thinking about the task (rather than the teacher’s ideas) become the focus of attention is what allows deep understanding of the content to emerge in tandem with the valued dispositions exercised in the collaborative process (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). Whereas sometimes such pedagogies have a more psychological constructivist orientation and sometimes a more social constructivist flavor, reform is best characterized as “a useful synthesis ... [wherein] knowledge is personally constructed and socially mediated” (Windschitl, 2002, p. 137). Metacognition is highly valued within this nexus of engagement as the glue that enables “adaptive expertise”–the marshaling and coordination of otherwise independent and isolated learning products (
Current theoretical interest in metacognition traces back to foundational work of Vygotsky and Piaget (Fox & Riconscente, 2008). From Vygotsky’s sociogenetic perspective, metacognitive (and other higher) functions originate in social interaction: “The very mechanism underlying higher mental functions is a copy from social interaction; all higher mental functions are internalized social relationships.... Their composition, genetic structure, and means of action–in a word, their whole nature--is social” (1981, p. 164). Olson (2003) carries this perspective forward to show how metacognitive capabilities can emerge within collaborative groups as internalization of argumentation: “The normative practice of reason giving and metacognition run together. Explanation, the giving of explicit or public reasons, is ... the route to metacognition, that is, cognition about cognition” (p. 241).
Metacognition also figured centrally in Piaget’s genetic epistemology. Piaget understood conceptual restructuring as resulting from perturbations that arise from cognitive conflicts between expectations and experiences (Brainerd, 2003). However, this is a chancy process, as “the effectiveness of cognitive conflict depends on the way comprehension is monitored. It depends, first, on the individual noticing the inconsistency and, second, on the way it is resolved” (Otero, 1998, p. 149). This is evident in Piaget’s (1975) notion of reflective abstraction, the primary mechanism for conceptual restructuring:
"Reflective abstraction always involves two inseparable features: a “reflechissement” in the sense of the projection of something borrowed from a preceding level onto a higher one, and a “reflexion” in the sense of a (more or less conscious) cognitive reconstruction or reorganization of what has been transferred." (p.41, quoted in von Glasersfeld, 1991)
This dual analysis highlights the contradictory ways that metacognition is incorporated into reform pedagogies. On the one hand, metacognition serves as a valued enculturational goal of instruction to be achieved through discussion and argumentation. On the other hand, metacognitive capabilities are the prerequisite for students’ construction of valued conceptual content while engaged in collaborative activities. Thus reform pedagogy is revealed as a fundamentally incoherent agenda for student learning, like a cat trying to catch its tail, always just out of reach.
The problematic character of the reform agenda does not imply that reform teaching can never be successful. Indeed, effective reform teachers have learned to support the cultural dynamics of small group interaction while constantly monitoring the conversations, worrying that discussions may not be productive conceptually, and making judicious moment-by-moment decisions about whether (and how) to intervene as a mediator of conceptual construction while doing minimal damage to the agenda of student autonomy and exploration (Ball, 1993; Marshall, 1994; Schifter, 1998; Schön, 1983; Williams & Baxter, 1996). In short, these teachers have implicitly adopted a crossdisciplinary perspective, coordinating independently coherent agendas of enculturation and construction. However, the reform discourse does not support the development of such expertise. Theorization of learning as an integrated set of processes serves to construct good teaching as a self-consistent set of practices,
thereby obscuring from teachers the contradictory demands of diverse learning goals, the need to "‘walk... the pedagogical tightrope'" (Wood, Cobb, & Yackel, 1995, p. 421).
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 12:37 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning (some examples from Dewey)
David, this is the issue that Mike confronts in his book
"Cultural Psychology"," that the best educational
initiatives seem to get closed down and replaced with
anti-learning grading institutions. Not all, and it would be
interesting to know how some of these initiatives survive.
This problem is part of my interest in project learning (and
*thanks for the marvellous pointers people have given me!!*
and some so close to home too). I am not an educator, but my
interest is philosophical/political. I needed to know if I
was missing something and maybe project based learning had
some deep flaws that I was missing. If so, they would
surface on XMCA. But I see that this is not the case.
But we are still at the point which Mike raised in his book:
it is not enough to have a project in the school; if it is
not part of a project in the community, which is actively
embraced and supported by the community, it gets killed.
So at this point I am feeling that the idea of "project" is
a viable approach to conceptualizing the context of learning.
thanks again for everyone. And I really loved the Dewey
ideas. If only ...
David H Kirshner wrote:
"One of Dewey's curricular obsessions, for instance, was cooking.... The children cooked and served lunch once a week."
My son's school for special needs students got a big write-up in the local paper for their once-per-week lunch program. Next day the health department shut them down.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Gregory Allan Thompson
Sent: Sunday, September 06, 2009 12:38 AM
Subject: [xmca] Project Based Learning (some examples from Dewey)
As a late contribution to Andy's project based learning question, I was just reading in The Metaphysical Club (by Louis Menand) about some of the examples of Dewey's projects at the Laboratory School, and was struck by how simple and easily accessible they were:
"One of Dewey's curricular obsessions, for instance, was cooking.... The children cooked and served lunch once a week.
The philosophical rationale is obvious enough: preparing a meal (as opposed to, say, memorizing the multiplication table) is a goal-directed activity, it is a social activity, and it is an activity continuous with life outside school. But Dewey incorporated into the practical business of making lunch:
arithmetic (weighting and measuring ingredients, with instruments the children made themselves), chemistry and physics (observing the process of combustion), biology (diet and digestion), geography (exploring the natural environments of the plants and animals), and so on. Cooking became the basis for most of the science taught in the school. It turned out to have so much curricular potential that making cereal became a three-year continuous course of study for all chidren between the ages of six and eight--with (on the testimony of two teachers) 'no sense of monotony on the part of either pupils or teacher.'" (Menard, p. 323).
The principle behind this, for Dewey, was the unity of knowlege, that is, the understanding that knowledge is not to be separated from activity. I find these examples to be instructive in their simplicity and closeness to the student's lives -- most of these activities are located within the walls of the school.
Seemed like good food for thought.
>from 1996-2001, is described in detail and explained in the larger
Date: Fri, 04 Sep 2009 12:00:51 +1000
From: Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed
xmca-ers, I sent the same message about project based learning to a
friend here in Melbourne who gave me such a comprehensive answer, I
thought I should share it:
Project-based learning (PBL) is what you are, of course, referring to.
With an array of pedagogical origins extending back many centuries
(well, further, of course, in a philosophical sense) and passing
through numerous iterations (including Dewey and the school of American
pragmatism), the espoused theory of PBL has been less nuanced than its
richer practice which invariably blends with other (even
oppositional) teaching strategies and methods.
*A critique of PBL and other minimal guidance approaches*
Minimal guidance techniques whereby learners discover or 'construct'
essential information (including project-based learning, discovery
learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning, experiential
learning and constructivist
learning) can constitute an inefficient and ineffectual way to teach
and learn. After at least 50 years of advocacy associated with
instruction using minimal guidance, there is still no solid body of
research supporting such techniques.
Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective, there is also
evidence that it may have negative results when students acquire
misconceptions or incomplete or disorganised knowledge.
Cognitive load theory (Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E.
Clark in their above critique of minimal
guidance) suggests that the free exploration of a complex environment
may generate a heavy working memory load that is detrimental to
students’ more strategic and sharply focused learning. As learning, by
definition, means a change in long-term memory, the problem with
minimal guidance is that the load on working memory makes it difficult
for long-term learning.
Students’ working memory is thus burdened by requiring them to sort
through irrelevant information while locating information that is
relevant (a problem compounded, of course, by the Net and superficial
fact-gathering). And working memory cannot be used efficiently to
commit relevant information to long-term memory if assessing the
relevance of material. Indeed, it is possible to search or work on
projects for extended periods of time with quite minimal alterations to
*A criticism of this critique – steps toward a synthesis*
The main criticism is that critiques of PBL, etc. *do not adequately
bring to the fore the need to move beyond the old antithetical
either-or* *of teacher-centred didactic instruction _versus_
student-centred learning*. There is obviously always the danger of
glorifying one end of the educational spectrum and casting the other
end into total darkness. As suggested by terms such as 'guided
discovery', elements of both instructional guidance and inquiry-based
learning are not mutually exclusive.
This blend of the best elements of what are often presented as
clear-cut alternatives is, of course, consistent with the work of
educators who seek to progress a 21st century teaching and learning
practice, founded on a more intimate, complex, dialectical interplay of
independent inquiry, problem-solving and practical project work *and*
increased depth of students' knowledge and understanding of concepts,
facts, laws, principles and theories, as imparted by teachers.
Long developed by many teachers in practice (even if their espoused,
'pure' theories contradict this), this dialectical interplay is
obviously at the basis of techniques such as scaffolding, cognitive
apprenticeships and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Important,
of course, to teaching in the ZPD (as "the distance between the actual
developmental level, as determined by independent problem solving, and
the level of potential development as determined through problem
solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable
peers") is the precise determination of what the student can really
manage and develop on his or her own. But this, in turn, obviously
depends on the guided instruction of a teacher or a more knowledgeable
peer or new, data-rich kinds of technology-assisted collaborative
*Beyond the old dualisms in education*
This educational practice is obviously quite distinct from the two
hitherto dominant and contrasting paradigms of overly-didactic
instruction _versus_ constructivist inquiry-based learning. It is thus
not inquiry-based learning or PBL _per se_ (all of which contain useful
insights into how best to engage and motivate many students) but rather
the persistence of false dichotomies in education that is the problem
to be resolved, notwithstanding the many instances of creative
Educational theory and practice has, of course, long been bedeviled by
false dualisms. (*This is _partly_ an Anglo problem, of course – but
this cultural and linguistic question is another issue altogether*).
Anyway, these dualisms are also out of sync with most students who
would benefit greatly from an education system and from schools that
did not pose practical activities, projects and meaning against
abstract and theoretical studies but instead more systematically and
creatively combined new forms of practical project work and independent
inquiry and even greater depth of scientific and philosophical
knowledge and understanding.
Hope that this is of use!
0402 152 634
*As for the technique of PBL, have a look at:*
• Mitchell, S., Foulger, T. S., & Wetzel, K.,
Rathkey, C. (February, 2009). The negotiated project
approach: Project-based learning without leaving the standards behind.
Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(4), 339-346. Available at
• Boss, S., & Krauss, J. (2007). _Reinventing
project-based learning: Your field guide to real-world projects in the
digital age._ Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in
• And from
one or more of the following may be of interest:
*Resources and research*
In a comprehensive synthesis, John W. Thomas, Ph.D., examines the
research base for project-based learning.
*Buck Institute for Education *http://www.bie.org Buck Institute
offers training and a handbook to guide middle school and high school
teachers in incorporating project-based learning into the curriculum.
The Web site also includes resources and research on PBL effectiveness.
*George Lucas Educational Foundation *www.edutopia.org* GLEF provides a
summary of project-based learning research, along with a gallery of
project examples (in print and video versions).
*The Multimedia Project: Project-Based Learning with Multimedia
Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, federally funded project which ran
context of a systemic school reform initiative in Silicon Valley. Site
includes array of resources, including implementation strategies,
award-winning project examples, and evaluation published by SRI.
*National Foundation for the Improvement of Education
*http://www.nfie.org/publications/ctb5.pdf* Connecting the Bits (2000)
includes a chapter on "Project-Based Learning and Information
*The Project Approach *http://www.project-approach.com* Maintained by
Sylvia Chard, professor at University of Alberta and co-author of
Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach (2000).
_Project-based learning research_. Edutopia.
www.edutopia.org* Intel® Teach to the Future. (2003).
_Project-based classroom: Bridging the gap between education and
technology_. Training materials for regional and master trainers.
Author. Jarrett, D. (1997).
_Inquiry strategies for science and mathematics learning_.
Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
_Project-based instruction: Creating excitement for learning_.
Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
SRI International. (2000, January). _Silicon valley challenge 2000:
Year 4 Report_. San Jose, CA: Joint Venture, Silicon Valley Network.
http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/sri/Reports.htm* Thomas, J.W. (1998).
_Project-based learning: Overview_. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for
Education. Thomas, J.W. (2000). _A review of research on project-based
learning_. San Rafael, CA:
Michael Glassman wrote:
Maybe it would be important to define Project Based
Learning. I assumed that Andy was talking about the type of learning for instance promoted by Reggio Emilia (for younger
children) and Perhaps the (early at least) Dewey school at the University of Chicago (which seemed to have influenced Reggio Emilia). In this form of Project Based Learning it is the students who initiate the project, based on their everyday experiences (this is where Reggio Emilia brings Vygotsky in a little bit I think). Whether the project continues is based on the continuing interests of the students, with the teacher serving as a facilitator. For older students the projects usually have a connection (but are not determined) by needs in their world and the community. For younger students the interest is more hedonistic. One early childhood project I wrote about was in an infant and toddlers class, based on construction, and it went on for months is a very fascinating manner.
Is this what you meant Andy?
From: firstname.lastname@example.org on behalf of
Sent: Thu 9/3/2009 11:51 AM
To: email@example.com; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning
I have been in schools that utilize this and have seen
mixed results. When
a very powerful PTA assists in the organization of a
project and parents
spend their time tying up loose ends I have seen $25,000
built! Students were incorporated into the project in
various ways and
then they earned school credits based on portfolios that
their participation as well as the progress of the project.
I have also
seen gardens become overgrown and left untended.
Here is a great website that provides insight into a
based learning initiative:
A very worthwhile endeavor for helping to build social
and a sense of craftmanship.
Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent by: email@example.com
09/03/2009 10:26 AM
Please respond to ablunden; Please respond to "eXtended
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
Subject: [xmca] Project Based Learning
Can anyone give me an opinion on the value of Project-Based Learning.
Does it work (in other than privielegd schools)?
What are the main criticism?
Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media) http://www.erythrospress.com/
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- Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media) http://www.erythrospress.com/
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The Department of Comparative Human Development
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