Improving Schools: Make Learning Good Again

There are so many schools that are ready to take the next step after the pandemic. They are ready to re-open, ready to receive children, and ready to make learning a good thing again.

Pandemic Affects Us

So the pandemic is tough to get over. Parents struggle, teachers struggle and our wonderful students have suffered. Getting us back together for more learning is important in the process of moving on from the pandemic’s effect upon us. We are all affected by the disease and we are naturally tired from the year we have spent fighting this.

Reading Helps Us

One way to think about this recovery period is to focus on reading. In the K-3 space we need to make sure every student reads on grade level by third grade. In the middle school years we need to read well into the domains of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and in the high school years we need to use reading to integrate what we have learned to solve the larger problems facing our society.


STEM needs at least one more part, the arts. STEAM is one of our most important newish ideas for improving schools. Art gives students a chance to engage, create, elaborate, and solve problems with original thinking. When subjects are integrated using the arts, students produce much deeper levels of thinking. For example, they not only create something new and original, but they elaborate their academic work by writing about why their thinking produced that work. Or they articulate why they think their work is original. OR they demonstrate the deeper levels of impact on student learning by taking their work home where it makes a difference there.

A common way to capitalize on STEAM and to improve schools is to launch a serious set of project-based learning activities in the classroom:

1. Engage: Project-Based Learning
Students go beyond the textbook to study complex topics based on real-world issues, such as the water quality in their communities or the history of their town, analyzing information from multiple sources, including the Internet and interviews with experts. Project-based classwork is more demanding than traditional book-based instruction, where students may just memorize facts from a single source. Instead, students utilize original documents and data, mastering principles covered in traditional courses but learning them in more meaningful ways. Projects can last weeks; multiple projects can cover entire courses. Student work is presented to audiences beyond the teacher, including parents and community groups.


Reality Check: At the Clear View Charter School, in Chula Vista, California, fourth- and fifth-grade students collected insect specimens, studied them under an electron microscope via a fiber-optic link to a nearby university, used Internet resources for their reports, and discussed their findings with university entomologists.


This is a really good time to use the experience of the pandemic to re-start our work in improving our schools, positively impacting our students, and jumping forward into the future. Let’s use project-based teaching to make project-based learning good again.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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