Hogwarts – A Study in Project Based Learning

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homeMillions of school-age children throughout the world would do most anything for the chance to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The school has some pretty awesome selling features: “Houses” that are like families, feasts and food to satisfy every appetite, dungeons, corridors, staircases, and bathrooms with mystery and intrigue, and quidditch.  Life at Hogwarts is never dull.  Any school-age boy or girl could appreciate that.  But what about the school part? Kids at Hogwarts seem to be engaged in learning.  They are motivated and seem to enjoy (or at least accept the challenge of) solving complex problems.  They almost always work in pairs or groups.  It’s social learning at the highest level – in the classroom, on the Quidditch pitch, for the House Cup, and in life.  When Hogwarts was created in Orlando, Florida, kids everywhere were thrilled they could actually visit this magical place.  But I have a better idea. Why don’t we bring some of this magic to our kids?  What if schools took a page from the Harry Potter books and reinvented themselves with the best features of this magical learning environment?  What sort of schools might we have then? Let’s imagine such a place…..

Classes at Hogwarts are different

  • Herbology is taught in one of the many school greenhouses – among the plants.
  • Care of Magical Creatures and Flying lessons are taught outdoors – on the school grounds.
  • Astronomy class meets at midnight in the topmost tower at Hogwarts.
  • Classes vary in structure and length.  Some classes are larger with students from varying houses and some are “doubles,” which means the class lasts twice as long as a normal class.  Some classes have a “theory” portion, with the “practical” portion at another scheduled time.
  • Some “classes” are offered to learn skills needed in life.  (i.e. apparition)
  • Students might not have a scheduled place to be at certain times during the day.

The methods used at Hogwarts for learning

  • Create potions in the dungeon.
  • Perform spells after learning the theory behind how the spell should work.
  • Students are tested with “anti-cheating” quills.  Thus, students know there is no way around actually learning material.
  • Students are given tests (theory and practical) throughout each course.  They are also tested twice toward the end of their school career. (O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s)
  • Memorizing the properties of various potion ingredients, the composition of specific potions, and practice preparing them.
  • Essays on the properties of potion ingredients. (and occasionally analyzing how a student’s practical assignment specifically went wrong and how to correct it)
  • When teachers insist on using old fashioned methods for learning, students create groups for teaching one another lessons and practice performing skills until proficient.  (i.e. Dumbledore’s Army and Defense Against the Dark Arts)

Sounds Like PBL to Me…

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking). (Buck Institute for Education)  While at Hogwarts, Harry and his friends were guided through this process in virtually every area of their development.  Complex questions, problems, and challenges were embedded in their learning targets.  The Hogwarts professors would probably laugh that we think collaboration, communication and critical thinking are “21st century” skills.  Certainly, these are not new to schools focused on an inquiry model.  So, why aren’t more schools trying this?

Project learning is very difficult.  Superior leadership and support are non-negotiables for creating such a school.  It takes amazing skill, determination, and dedication from the teachers.  The amount of training and development necessary for such a transformation can be costly.  But, the results are truly magical.  I’ve witnessed (and played a small role in) the transformation of a such a school.  Winterboro School has really gone from mundane to magical. I can’t wait to share more about what we’ve done in future posts.  But for now, chew on this.  What will happen to the students of our future if we don’t provide them with a meaningful purpose for learning?  If the Harry Potter books could impact young readers in such a profound way, could the same books inspire leaders to give students what they crave?

Maybe one day Hogwarts won’t be so special.   Our kids deserve to attend a school of magic every day.  Anyone know a spell for creating such a place?

9 thoughts on “Hogwarts – A Study in Project Based Learning

  1. Martha Mackay says:

    I don’t know the spell but I’m willingly to learn or practice. What a wonderful analogy you have created. As a teacher and a giant Harry Potter fan, I would love to teach in this magical place! I look forward to reading/learning how your school has become “magical”.


  2. Jennifer Barnett says:

    Thanks for commenting, Martha! I’m convinced that us Harry Potter fanatics can find all sorts of life lessons in the midst of those brilliant books. Sometimes all we need is an image in our mind of what we really want. There’s great joy in working toward goals when we all “see” the same thing. 🙂


  3. Dissertation Writing says:

    The Hogwarts is a fictional boarding school of magic for witches and wizards between the ages of eleven and seventeen,the School is located on a beautiful and awesome location and about the classes you told,yes they are different and the environment is also great and suitable for the students to study.


  4. Sharon says:

    I, too, have seen the transformation in my classroom as the students and I, TOGETHER, made the leap into PBL this year. It truly does make a difference in their engagement levels and their interest in learning the material. The spell for this is easy and hard all at once: JUST DO IT. There is no halfway, and you must have faith in your students, along with several fail-safes that help them along the way. The biggest challenge to implementing PBL was me…yep, the teacher. I have struggled to let go on a daily basis. I have bit my tongue, my lip, my fist to keep from “butting in” on a group conversation or telling students the “how” of solving a problem.Now, going in to the fourth quarter of school…it has paid off considerably. We just finished our third PBL unit, and my student were AWESOME. They helped each other to solve problems, support lower-level learners, and worked as cohesive groups. It wasn’t all rosy all the time, but what a difference since August. I recommend PBL to every teacher that truly believes that learning is about their students doing, producing, stretching, challenging, and working. Finally, at the end of the day, they are tired, but I’m not. Thank you PBL!


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