I have a few friends who are teachers, and I know and have spoken to several people with young children in the school system. All these people tell me how the emphasis on learning has switched from taking tests to doing these elaborate, hands-on projects. The idea is that we need to be getting children actively involved in the learning process at a young age, and the best way to do it is by giving them creative projects (dioramas, science fair projects, poster boards, etc.). Someone I recently spoke to told me that her son's science fair project takes up 80% of his last marking period grade!!
I think this idea is freaking stupid. I hated projects when I was a kid. I hated them with a passion. I would rather take 100 tests than make a stupid poster or do some other "creative" project. In fact, one time when given the option to either make a crossword puzzle using the words in the chapter of my spelling book or to answer every single question in the chapter, I chose to answer every question in the chapter. I was the only one in my class to do so.... Wouldn't you know, I was also the only person in the class to get a 100 on that spelling test (which included spelling, definitions, using in sentences, etc.).
Personally, I believe that you learn a lot less through projects than you do through old fashioned questions and tests. Chapter questions and well-written tests make sure the students are paying attention to all the details of the subject. When doing a project, you can choose to ignore certain aspects of a subject and, instead, only focus on the things you feel like.
Moreover, let's not kid ourselves.... Especially on the elementary school level, these kids aren't really the ones doing the projects. The parents are doing the projects for them. After all, while kids are plenty creative, they often have great difficulty organizing their thoughts to form something coherent. Therefore, if left on their own, they'd produce pretty poor creative projects. The parents end up being the ones that come up with the ideas, buy the materials, do all the cutting, all the pasting, 3/4 of the research, most of the writing, etc. All the kid has to do is stand up in front of the class and show the work his mommy or daddy did.
I know this was true for me. My mother did all my school projects until I hit high school. Every diorama, science fair project, poster board, and creative invention project, was done almost entirely by my mom. Luckily, we had to do far less projects in my elementary and middle school days than students have to do today. I'm pretty sure I learned a WHOLE lot more than today's students too.
My personal opinion is that elementary school and middle school should focus mostly on math and writing (with an emphasis on proper grammar and paragraph structure). History and science can be those fun little classes on the side, but most of the early learning should be in math and writing (and I'll throw in reading, which goes hand-in-hand with writing). These are the most important subjects because everything else is built upon them. Math is integral in statistics, chemistry, physics, and many other subjects. A good understanding is the only means to mastering these subjects. Reading and writing is quite simply involved in every subject. You can't learn a subject unless you can read well about it, and you can't properly explain a subject without being able to effectively write about it.
That was just my random thought for the day... And by the way... I realize that there are a few grammatical and spelling mistakes in my blog entries. Understand that I'm not paying particularly close attention to grammar and spelling in my blog. I'm just getting ideas out there. If I were to write a formal paper, my grammar would be much much better.