How Projects Supercharge Learning

students sitting on their makeshift tire and bamboo bench

Even within Green School, a bamboo-made wall-less school, it can be difficult to step outside the norm set by the dominant education system. We sure try, but it’s not easy. Students, parents and educators alike, are still tied down to ideas that have been ingrained in our society for ages. Grades and credits — transcripts, essentially— are kind of expected. I mean, how can one apply to university without them; how can one prove their worth to the institution if they don’t have letters and numbers to represent them?

And, well, students want to go to university, right? The sole possibility that a student might choose to pursue higher education hinders a school from innovating. Algebra, essay writing and exams like the SAT’s are just things that can’t be ignored. During an application process, these carry too much weight, and, even though one might’ve acquired the knowledge in a different way, universities are not always so interested in listening. It’s actually quite difficult for a school to stray away, too far, from the typical box ticking of subjects, because, quite frankly, it’s scary. An alternative approach to education might sound and even work great, but if the university system doesn’t buy into it, then, to put it simply, the student is screwed. And that’s… well, that’s just not nice.

But, what if university was not a thing? Or, what if it was, but it was just something completely different? What if it was more like LEAP — In broad terms, LEAP is a programme in which high school kids work on projects of their choosing, all day, every day, for six straight weeks — ? What if high school and university were just one big blur in which students of all ages came together to work on cool and passion fueled projects? What if this, let’s call it the SALPTIWE — short for Super Amazing Learning Place That I Wish Existed — focused on generating social entrepreneurs, tinkerers, inventors and innovators instead of, I don’t know, all of those other degrees one can get? What if…

So, where is this coming from?

Being part of LEAP has taught me a lot of things. We don’t do lessons in LEAP, but, for the sake of doing a list, cause, everybody loves lists, I’ll break my learnings into lessons.

Lesson 1: Working on projects is fun! — Seriously, it is. Even when I was encountered with topics that weren’t of my immediate interest, like, stuff I had not even thought about pursuing, the lone nature of a project makes for easy engagement. I dare to say that everyone enjoys learning. And, being part of a collaborative effort driven by excitement and curiosity, results in learning. All the time.

Lesson 2: Age is irrelevant — I’ve understood that I’m actually not the teacher; I’m only one more member of the team. Maybe one of the most experienced members, but a member nonetheless. Sure, I’ve had to adopt a sort of project manager role, but I’m not an expert — in some cases, I’m a complete beginner— in all that we do. At the start of a project, I’m in the same position as the students. We’re in this together, no matter age or levels of experience. We all bring our skills to the table; we understand our strengths and weaknesses, and we go from there. At the end of each LEAP iteration, I come out learning as much as the students do.

Lesson 3: Projects emulate the real world —well, duh.

Lesson 4: This is what school should be like — these are actual comments from my students:

Grade 12 student: If I got sick, it would make me sad cause I wouldn’t want to miss a day of school.
Grade 12 student: Mo, what if I come back next year and become a LEAP teacher?
Grade 10 Student: Every morning when I woke up, I would often dread having to go to school, but now, in LEAP, I look forward to it.

Now, LEAP is still a baby and it’s nowhere near perfect; there’s still quite a few things to figure out. In its current form, I would never suggest that it could provide the platform to replace a university education. However, it’s not crazy to say that it someday could. Someday soon. The answer, I think, lies somewhere in between a mix of a programme like LEAP, a bootcamp style education, a co-working space and an idea incubator. Wouldn’t that be something?