Technology giants, like Grace Hopper, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, didn't learn how to program and build products by taking mandatory courses in school. They all taught themselves through play, by building interesting projects and learning new techniques whenever necessary. The projects came first and the concepts were just a means to an end.
We think this is the most effective way to develop deep understanding in students. We structure learning through fun projects, and introduce skills or concepts only after students realize that new knowledge is needed to solve a problem.
Our project-based approach at Digital Adventures draws from two core ideas: accidental learning and competency-based education. In plain English, that means we believe that:
If you’re interested in learning more, keep reading below.
Accidental (or Incidental) learning, is a phrase coined by cognitive scientist and learning theorist Roger Schank and refers to the everyday learning that takes place in all of our lives. For example, an international traveler might need to figure out how to get from the airport to her hotel. Through the process of solving this transportation problem, she would also learn how the city’s subway system is structured and a few basic phrases in a new language. The traveler didn’t set out with an explicit goal to learn about the city’s subway system or a new language, that learning just happened accidentally along the way.
Kids just want to play and build cool stuff they can show off to their friends.
So we make sure students are having tons of fun working on engaging projects like building virtual reality words, designing autonomous vehicles or 3D-printing a new invention. Along the way, they’ll find out they’ve actually gotten pretty good at programming or 3D-modeling.
We do care about making sure students learn specific skills, though. So at Digital Adventures we’re very intentional about tracking student progress, but we try to make assessment as unobtrusive as possible to the project-based experience.
Competency-based education is an approach to learning that’s explicitly focused on student mastery. It seems obvious that teachers should assess students' progress on whether or not they’ve mastered skills or concepts, but it doesn’t often happen that way in practice. In may cases students get moved on when they’ve sat through a certain number of lectures or when they’ve been ‘exposed’ to a certain amount of topics and have passed some low-level test of understanding, like a multiple-choice exam.
We only move students forward when they’ve demonstrated mastery through rich, meaningful assessments like independently completing project-based work, ‘teaching’ instructors or other students about a concept, or presenting their process for a particular project.
This approach is only possible in a culture where students are comfortable learning at their own pace and judging their progress against themselves instead of against their peers. Different students will excel at different topics in our curriculum, and helping students discover and build on their strengths while also connecting with peers who complement those strengths is an integral part of the Digital Adventures experience.