My daughter was taught reading in fifth grade using a very analytical program developed for above grade-level readers. It was very researched-based. Lots of solid educational theory behind it. She was a voracious reader. By the end of fifth grade she hated reading. She hated books. She refused to read. (With a fantastic reading teacher in sixth grade, my daughter discovered her love of reading again, thank goodness.)
Why? This program picked books apart. The kids had to analyze them to death. Every chapter was torn apart and looked at.
Think of it this way. View a gorgeous Monet painting. Stand several yards back and take it all in. Breath-taking. I fell in love with art through the work of Monet. Now, press your nose up to the canvas. Pick it apart. Analyze the color. Analyze the strokes. Not so great anymore, is it?
I see the same thing happening with project based learning, what I call authentic learning. Semantics – project based learning, authentic learning, learning through play…everything has the same goal – to make learning real, make it worthwhile, make it count. Not only are folks hung up on the semantics, they are hung up on planning every detail out ahead of time, getting plans from others, following commercial programs – not authentic at all.
Don’t do to authentic projects what that reading program did. Don’t pre-plan and pick apart the experience until you destroy the spontaneity and joy of learning for you and your students. Go with the flow, as the captain of your ship keep it on course, but allow for your passengers to experience the choices from the buffet along the way!