Lan Crofton, once on a pre-med track to becoming a doctor, decided it was time he committed to what he truly loved and took a 180 degree turn — he became a teacher. Having instructed classes ranging from Magic for Muggles to Finding Patient Zero, Lan discusses how we assess project-based learning in classrooms in and outside of EXPLO.
Our interview with Lan Crofton has been condensed and lightly edited.
I have been through almost every type of schooling that has ever existed. I have gone to Catholic school, private school, boarding school, and public school. It was interesting for me to reflect back on all of my experience in primary education and ask some essential questions about my personal variables. I kept going back to the notion of "Why are the schools I have attended so different from one another? Is there a best practice for education? If so, can that practice be applied everywhere?"
These questions kept circling around my head — and still do — which is why as an intended major in biology, I took my first education course freshman year. Like most bio majors, I was on the pre-med track. After my first class I immediately said, "Woah. I guess I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. Teaching is it for me."
We all know that in elementary school, we tend to enjoy class . . . but by the time we are in high school, it’s a struggle to simply show up. There is this huge amount of time between 5th and 10th grade where something happens where we forget why we learn.
After some formal education classes, these questions about all of the variables around school seem to come down to one thing for me: instilling the joy of learning in students. If they learn just how to love learning, they will develop so many tools to guide them through education in the long run.
We all know that in elementary school, we tend to enjoy class — at least some aspects of it — but by the time we are in high school, it’s a struggle to simply show up. There is this huge amount of time between 5th and 10th grade where something happens where we forget why we learn.
Lan beginning a hands-on lesson on density and its relationship to bouyancy.
Project-based learning and experiential thinking is a huge part of discovering that ‘why.‘ But both being a part of so many education systems and being formally educated about those systems, I know it would be naive to suggest every school can just adopt this strategy and implement it tomorrow. The American education system is still trying to figure out, "how can we best incorporate project-based learning when our faculty don’t have experience teaching it?"
Learning how to assess project-based learning and ensuring that instructors are making project-based learning meaningful. That is the crux of what we do at EXPLO.
I think it comes down to two things. Learning how to assess project-based learning and ensuring that instructors are making project-based learning meaningful. That is the crux of what we do at EXPLO.
First, assessing something can be extremely difficult in progressive education. At EXPLO, we make it clear that we do not have grades. We do not ask students to hand in homework. We do not ask students to take tests. But what’s important is that we absolutely are still assessing their progress and development in the subject they are exploring.
Lan discussing the strength of dsinfectants, while observing agar plates students have swabbed
For example, we are thoughtfully taking note of how a student stepped into the classroom on day one comparative to day three, or even ten minutes ago and right this very instant. We are assessing how they interact with their peers, how they communicate with adults, and how they foster emotional intelligence in their design process.
A lot of our students are learning about what it means to have their own ideas and their own thoughts, often for the very first time.
We also constantly talk to our students about ensuring they know what their objectives are within the experiential process. The great thing is — because of our class size — each objective can be different for each student. For example, in a Pioneer Mechanical Engineering class, one student may declare "today is the day I am going to make a boat!", while another student might say "today, I am going to build a boat that goes across a full length of the pool!", and another student might claim "today, I am going to think up a way to market my personalized waterproof oars for my boat-owning classmates to buy!". A lot of our students are learning about what it means to have their own ideas and their own thoughts, often for the very first time.
The objectives offer our fifth graders a sense of ownership in their learning. And that makes for incredibly fun teaching and incredibly fun learning . . . where instilling that joy and finding that 'why' go hand in hand.