Each school year, students spend up to 1,000 hours in the classroom. Every minute of every one of those hours is crucial, as young people’s minds are developed and prepared to grow up to become the next generation of brilliant thinkers and problem-solvers.
Educators are working tirelessly to adapt their classwork to stay relevant in a fast-paced, increasingly connected society. It is no wonder that many of them have turned to a growing trend in education: project-based learning.
PBL engages students in a rigorous process of inquiry, where students pose questions, find resources and apply information to solve real-world problems. It is a far cry from rote, repetitive teaching methods; it is not centered around recitation of facts students are meant to sit and memorize.
Instead, project-based learning takes students on an interdisciplinary journey to explore real-world concepts with learning experiences that fit into an established curriculum. A single project might challenge students in mathematics, English language arts, science, social studies, as well as soft skills like collaboration and social emotional learning. This encourages students to hone a broad skillset in pursuit of solutions to the problems they face in a project-based learning experience, as well as in the real world.
This school year, Van Andel Institute launched Blue Apple, an initiative that creates the framework for fourth and fifth grade teachers to implement project-based learning in the classroom by offering prepared project concepts, lesson plans, online resources and more.
The institute recognized the growing appetite among teachers for project-based learning and sought out the experience of educators from across the United States who are already using the technique in their classrooms. These teacher-authors helped create Blue Apple materials, and their firsthand knowledge aims to help teachers who are interested in project-based learning create authentic experiences for students.
What results from this collaboration is a strategy to help students excel in the classroom and, eventually, the 21st-century workforce. No one can predict with absolute certainty which jobs and skills will be the linchpin of the economy in 10 or 15 years. But with project-based learning, students become adaptable, creative and collaborative. These attributes give tomorrow’s working professionals the skills, adaptability and knowledge needed to thrive in a fast-paced world filled with uncertainty.
Many classrooms in the U.S. still rely on outdated instruction models, but students living in our technologically advanced, dynamic world need more than the status quo. They need learning environments that challenge, spark imagination and encourage curiosity. Project-based learning is the future of education. Through initiatives like Blue Apple, we ensure the next generation — and generations to come — are prepared to meet head-on the challenges of tomorrow.
David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.