I Was Creative, Then I Wasn’t, Now I Am Again: Journey of a PBL Student

March 9, 2013


That’s what most kids strive for at school. Whether they are A’s, B’s C’s or D’s, everyone has a list of their academic goals. I guarantee that 9 out of 10 students have good grades, or high GPA as a goal each year.


Schools revolve around grades. Schools want you to focus on grades from they day you walk in. In kindergarten if you received a low grade on an addition quiz, you would have to review and take it again. Who wants to do that? Most of your “learning” is from worksheets:  2+2 or 1+2, row after row of similar problems.  Sometimes, you would get a story problem, but that is as close to a “real world problem” as you would get. It basically was the same thing every year, every grade,  through 8th grade.

Do your homework.


Take the test.

Get the grade.

Over and over and over again.

Before you go to school you learn to interpret everything in your own way. There is no right or wrong answer. If the sky looks orange to you, you know it’s orange. If you think that flying fish really fly then they fly. If you wanted to color a duck purple no one stopped you. Schools put an end to this as early as kindergarten. I believe that schools basically “train” you into believing what society believes. The sky is blue, so color it blue. Scientifically,  the sky appears blue to most people, but not all. All people have different interpretations of everything they will see, hear, smell, touch, taste or learn through life and will be different from their neighbor. We basically are spoon fed information from kindergarten to 12th grade and we instantly assume it’s correct. Whatever the teacher says goes.

When I was in 8th grade, grades & being on top were a big deal to me. I was that kid who constantly checked the online gradebook. I always finished homework and stressed over tests. Rubrics were my best friend. I made sure that my assignment was top quality. Even if I understood the content, I did the worksheet anyway.

Why? For the grade.

I never really questioned the content. I just scrambled to write down all the notes. I never cared if I was going to use it in 10 years. I never cared if I solved a real world problem, or if I could speak publicly. I never cared if I networked with real people, and carried out my findings.

I cared about the grade.

I wanted high grades. I wanted A’s. I was pretty close-minded. Not because I chose this path, but because this is how I had been trained since kindergarten. Grades are everything. (This again is a matter of perspective)

Now I am a freshman at Kent Innovation High in Grand Rapids MI. I have learned so much. Not only content, but more about what real life is like. You will never get through life if you only have 1 goal in mind. If you simply just want to finish 1 item and nothing else you will indubitably fail. You have to learn all aspects of life. You need your own perspective on life. You need to acquire skills. You need to learn to communicate and collaborate. You need to take the initiative to step outside your comfort zone. In my time at Kent Innovation High I have greatly improved my people skills. Before, I was dead awful at presenting in front of my classes. It took a lot of practicing and I still managed to mess it up somehow. Now I can stand in front of 300 people and give a full overview of Kent Innovation, our projects and what we are about. These are the skills that will get you through life, no matter if you are what the traditional school considers  smart or not.


Is it lost completely after being trained? No. I was a narrow-minded student, with 1 goal, grades (not learning: grades). Basically, the steps I took were sit down, shut up, and listen, then go home and study.

Now I question nearly everything. Why IS the sky blue? The great thing is I don’t receive science facts. I get my question answered with a question. Which leaves me room to explore myself, interpret the information myself and learn the information in a way which suits me. Projects usually focus on SWLO  (school-wide learning outcomes)  more than content. This means I can take the content I do need to include and incorporate it as I feel necessary. I feel that when we create projects, I focus more on what I am taking out of the project, what others will take away, and what work I put into it. I want to create a product that I am satisfied with. Not just something that will get me a good grade.

I want to change the world with the projects I produce. Whether it’s the whole world, my community or even just 1 person’s life. I want to make that difference. I could never do that with a math worksheet.

So Grades. What are they really? I think they are just indicators for where we are in content and should not be our main focus in school.

Emmy is frequent collaborator during #PBLChat each Tuesday at 8pm EST and is actively crafting her digital footprint. Follow her@EmmyRyder2016  she loves to engage in professional discussion.