Project-based learning by teenagers and adults in Jarandilla de la Vera creates a learning framework and harmonious coexistence that is improving the lives of all.

Maribel Maseda – writer, lecturer and nurse specializing in mental health


Photo: Project-based learning at the Jaranda High School, in collaboration with the Cohousing of Servimayor.

There are as many learning methods as there are learners.For each of us the appropriate one is given by our personal characteristics: concerns, patience, concentration capabilities, our ability to memorise , synthesise, analyse, understand, focalise our interests, be more or less concrete, see the material aspects of things and problems … But until recently teaching  was mainly done through a single method: memorization. And so, in many cases, getting a pass mark  relied heavily on the retentive capacity of students. Similarly, in the area of ​​the sciences, interventions were often unilateral, learning for its own sake, without ever knowing how the scientific knowledge could be applied in everyday life, the potential for reflection being paralyzed,  as well as the creativity and ingenuity of the student. Thus, many boys and girls who seemed to have no great talent for learning went unnoticed or worse, were disqualified, when perhaps they possessed a great potential that nobody could find about. And the reason was simply not knowing how to teach them to learn.

When the Bologna Declaration was signed among the EU countries, for and against radical opinions quickly appeared, mainly about the way this Declaration had settled the bases to ensure a better and higher quality education, both with respect to students and teachers. The project-based learning and the use of ICT as a basic tool to promote communication and information management with the aim of boosting in students the essential skills for integration into the world at large and life in general, and the need to ensure their autonomy in developing their own judgments adhering to facts but allowing a space for reflection in which to develop their creative talents, intended to convey to students the idea that, now for one, Europe was ready to receive their contributions and grow together with them.

The complexity of the educational process  together with the many reforms that our system has suffered, the Project-Based Learning looks like a breath of fresh air and a call to hope not only for the use of teaching itself, but more and better, the use of the individual skills that each student possesses and the educational and human capabilities that teachers are able to apply for that purpose. Because, let there be no mistake, this new way of learning is also a new way of teaching: students and teachers have embarked on an adventure in which they have not always equally believed, but where they are now sharing a broad and novel space to be jointly discovered.

Teachers at the Jaranda High School know very well and often use the word “unlearning” when telling me how they spend their time now while they are still in the first stage of the process. For it is difficult to get rid of the habit of referring to the textbook whenever we want to check something, review or learn  its literalness to get us out of trouble in the last minute. Removing the textbooks, even though many found them boring and hardly helpful, generated the greatest obstacle because they had to forego the chance of checking if they so decided at some point. In return they were given the opportunity to participate in the learning process, so that everyone could approach it from the perspective that provided them with more and better learning.

Thus, combining technique, technology, strategy, patience, ability to motivate, among many other resources, it is intended that while learning the different subjects, students develop and enhance things like  interest, curiosity, self-confidence, critical thinking, empathy, communication skills, creativity, etc. Such a challenge, as ambitious as it is coherent, highlights the valuable and indispensable contribution of teachers to the knowledge-based society that Europe wants to create.

There is no doubt that teaching contents are essential for the development of the individual in many ways. Project-based learning ensures that, at the same time, the student learn how to apply them to their real, everyday life and offers opportunities to validate their human potential, whether they realize it or not. Teachers working with this approach are much more respectful with students as human beings and their rights. They see them as individuals with their personal circumstances, their ability to overcome or take advantage of them and a potential to develop in the future according to their possibilities, their wishes, their ambitions. They help them to be tolerant and to battle frustration, to respect themselves and others.

Project-based learning is based on the right to be all you can and want to be. But, by itself, the method would not get you there. It’s the teachers who accept this important challenge that later, lest we forget, will have a big impact on our society. And so, students collect these opportunities and try to make sense out of them within the reality they now have closer at hand.

With this comprehensive methodology, in which activities that encourage personal growth and evolution are another fundamental pillar, the students of  the Jaranda High School have joined with their teachers in a project of intergenerational relationship with a Nursing Home based on Cohousing, -Servimayor-  keeping a sincere, altruistic, and voluntarily close relationship with the people who live there. This admirable activity has led to an objective improvement in the morale of the elders which translates into a positive impact on their daily lives. Noting the respect these young people show beyond age, beyond the educational content of a textbook, one realizes what a good teacher means in our lives and the benefits they contribute to society, sometimes almost unnoticed.

Teachers such as Ignacio, Alvaro, Javier, Chelo, Manuel, and Jose Francisco, a math teacher who was ahead 30 years and managed to teach his students more than pre-university derivatives and integrals. To them, to all the teachers who have sought to make the best in the best manner, our most sincere thanks although it is possible they may never come to know how far along the road and for how long, they have been important partners for their students.

Translated by Arturo Guillén.