After pointing out the many flaws of our current educational system, the makers of Most Likely to Succeed go in search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests. To go even further, a school alternative that more closely matches up to tasks that students will have to be able to complete in their future jobs.
A large portion of the film is then spent profiling a select group of students at a High Tech High, which teaches primarily by having the students do independent projects in groups, or project based learning.
The documentary does a good job of making the stories of the students engaging. Students study cross curriculum. In one class, students study physics in combination with history; they learn how to construct gears to make a working model to illustrate the rise and fall of different civilizations. This is a much more involved than a typical “make a model of…” history project! Each group researches a different civilization and creates their own moving gear representation.
Another class rewrites classic literature into a play to portray the story of Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai. However, the documentary barely touches on the logistics of stage lighting, knowledge of electricity, and physics of prop movement – the physics – that the students may have learned when producing the play.
In my reading I’ve repeatedly come across the idea that to be successful kids need to know how to fail. In the traditional class structure, and certainly in AP classes, this increasingly looks like covering a massive enough amount of material, homework paperwork, and memorization that the kids who “fails” are the ones who fall asleep doing homework.
Instead, in these projects the students are encouraged to take the initiative and decide how ambitious their project will be, given the amount of time they have. They show one student project leader failing at this challenge, but persevering through the summer and completing the project. (However, no mention is made of his other teammates working through their vacation as well. Those students not working overtime is thin thread of hope that this way of learning means less outside homework and not more.) The explanation is that at the end of the project during the school year, his grade was not dependent on successful completion of his project, but the things learned in the process including not only the subject knowledge but also knowledge about planning on leading.
(As a side note, it is interesting to me that not completing the project on-time is viewed as a failure. And indeed, if everyone always missed their deadlines we would get nowhere. But Steve Jobs repeatedly missed deadlines in his search for perfection and new products that were truly unique.)
However, the documentary doesn’t adequately explain the alternative grading method used by the school. Grades are so ingrained in the way we think of school, and they’re still required for college admission in many cases. When you’ve got a high achieving school district like we do, you’ve really got to change the way the entire district – teachers, students, and parents – think about grades to be able to teach with the project-based method. The documentary didn’t go into how to do this.
And if you aren’t paying careful attention, you miss the fact that the teachers at High Tech High spend at least some time lecturing. You’ll also miss that there seem to be at least some assignments along the way to the end of the project, such as essay writing.
But because Most Likely to Succeed spends so long telling the story of High Tech High, the biggest point you miss is that the documentary is not trying to say that project based learning is the only way to change schools. They go through a list of a few other schools trying alternatives, but very quickly and with no explanation of their methods. It’s more like reading a list of school names. Perhaps there was no way to cover a broader range of methods and make it engaging, but it would have helped to have gone into at least a little depth of some of the other methods.
So while Most Likely to Succeed does a good job of pointing out the flaws with our current school system and can inspire you to do more, I don’t think it does a good idea of showing how to shift into a new system. Admittedly, the documentary was already pretty long. I’ll talk about some of the difficulties that need to be addressed to make changes in current schools in my next post.
More articles in this series and review of Most Likely to Succeed
- Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Review and Discussion – Part 1/11
- I hate school – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 2/11 Does your kid hate school? Do kids they really hate it because they have to work hard and they are lazy, or is there another reason?
- How important is doing well in school to success? – Most Likely to Succeed Part 3/11 Have you told your kid that it’s for important so they can get a good job? How important is doing well in school to success?
- We don’t need human calculators, so why are we training them? – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 4/11 Our education system was designed to train workers for jobs that are being replaced by machines. It’s outdated.
- Fear of Failure in Education – Most Likely to Succeed Part 5/11 Schools are as much afraid of failing the test as students are, in spite of it not being a guarantee of success.
- High Tech High – Most Likely to Succeed Part 6/11 In search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests – High Tech High.
- Project Based Learning – Most Likely to Succeed Part 7/11 Most Likely to Succeed presents the best solution I’ve seen to the problems of run-away tests and hours of homework – project based learning.
- Grades – What are they for? Most Likely to Succeed Part 8/11 What do student grades mean? Are they a measure for improving learning? Or a way to rank kids against each other so we can identify the “best” kids?
- The problems with group projects – Most Likely to Succeed Part 9/11 For group projects like those portrayed at High Tech High in Most Likely to Succeed, schools will have to structure, teach and grade projects differently.
- Cut the School Curriculum – Most Likely to Succeed Part 10/11 To change learning to be more in-depth the way it is presented in Most Likely to Succeed, we’re going to have to cut the school curriculum.
- Most Likely to Succeed – Learn more Part 11/11 Change the antiquated structure of education to prepare students for jobs and create happier, healthier, more creative individuals.