Students who follow a project-based or a portfolio curriculum approach are typically encouraged to “learn from life.” These approaches afford students a greater latitude to explore personal experiences and beliefs in relation to what they learn at school. For many students whose lives have been upended by the pandemic and the social and racial divide roiling the nation, that charge has taken on new significance—school has become a place for processing these changes.

But how does that actually look? Recently, I spoke with three such students, who say that the scientific temperament developed in their schools helped them analyze challenging personal experiences and derive real, meaningful learning.

Escaping the Information Bubble

Two years ago, Thomas (a pseudonym) got caught up in the alt-right movement, a set of far right ideologies popularized by social media. He tells me about his journey into the movement, how he drew himself out and how the experience shaped what he is doing now, after graduating high school.

At the time, Thomas felt “fragile:” He just left home to study in the U.K. The “red pill,” or the thing that hooked him into the alt-right, was a headline about extremist feminism, intended to turn people against feminists. With two mothers, Thomas says he was on a journey to discover what kind of feminist he is.

But after a while, he began to think critically about what he was reading. Studying at a project-based school, Thomas developed a discipline for inquiry, fact-checking and reflection which he tells me: “stopped [him] from being so angry” about the headlines he saw in the movement and motivated him to investigate the facts. Each project at Thomas’ school is driven by a question, broken up into “advanced inquiry targets,” or sub-questions that students explore through research and tasks. These tasks are