The activity school

Filling the pail

In the 1930s, progressive education started to gain traction in American public schools. One manifestation of this was the “activity movement”. There was much debate around the definition of the activity movement and “activity schools”, with some seeing no need to differentiate between activity schools and progressive schools. For others, activity schools were a specific application of important principles of progressivism; activity schools were one example of progressivism more generally.

According to Diane Ravitch, a survey of experts managed to produce forty-two different definitions of the activity movement. William Heard Kilpatrick, the popular progressive educationalist and Columbia’s University’s ‘million dollar’ professor, defined an activity school as one where activities were ‘natural’ rather than one where a curriculum was set out in advance. Kilpatrick was famous for his essay “The Project Method” that he wrote in 1918 and which explained his ideas on project-based learning. According to James Lynch, the idea of the…

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