One of the joys of my primary school was the summer opportunity to complete an extended project. We were left to our own devices for almost two weeks and had access to the library and the paint store and could use Plasticene and modelling materials if they fitted the bill. We could chose the subject for our project in consultation with our teacher.
I decided to do my project on Aviation – an abiding interest, and this gave me many interesting diversions one of which was into the Kamikaze and the Okha. This of course was before the internet, when such butterfly learning required considerable staying power. To find out more about the Kamikaze I needed to visit my local public library and was helped by the librarian to find more information that cultivated an interest in wider Japanese culture.
I was very proud of my finished project and was given an opportunity to show and tell to the class. For the teacher, I’m not sure if the content or the process was more important. I had “ardderchog” written in red on the final page (Welsh for excellent) together with some notes about what had worked well and some pointers for further improvement.
This was not exceptional for our school, or primary schools in general at the time – it was the 1960s and I was eight years old. I would call on similar skills and behaviours again at University a decade later.
In today’s crowded curriculum, such project based learning is the exception rather than the rule – the idea that students may be allowed to chose their own area of interest seems almost heretical to the standardised practices which hold sway so often! (Have I mentioned Finland… where the whole curriculum is going project based because they believe the process of learning to learn is more valuable than any specific set of knowledge?)