Monday, September 23, 2013

Road Trip

Once of the things that I was trying to accomplish with my last post was to put forth the idea that, often, learning takes place outside the walls of the traditional classroom. In fact, I would argue that in the history of the world a very small percentage of learning has taken place inside a classroom.  Real knowledge comes from real experience and one of the things that we are horrible at manufacturing in schools is reality.  Most of the time, the things that students are supposed to be doing and learning have little obvious connection with the reality of the world outside the confines of the school.  Our reaction to this is the push for PBL.
PBL seeks to make learning relevant.  Projects aren't treated as isolated bits of knowledge for students to learn. The projects should be integrated within the framework of the curriculum and should include as many real world experiences as possible. The audience should be bigger than the teacher and the project should include opportunities for students to engage in practicing 21st century skills.
Today my students began to investigate Lewis and Clark through the PBS website and Ken Burns' documentary. I always talk about Lewis and Clark embarking on the greatest of road trips. We will try to expand this idea tomorrow by launching a project on the Great American Road Trip.  Students will examine why people "take to the road."  What kinds of things push people to move, to explore?
Students will partner up and look at specific instances in US History when Americans moved about and what were the motivations for this movement? The students will then design a museum exhibit based around the idea of a road trip and will seek to display the reasons why Americans have taken to the road in the past. The exhibits will be set up in an area where people from outside the school can see them and give feedback. I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Redesign = rethinking

Wow. It's been almost a year since I last posted on this site. Seems like school begins to happen and I lose track of time and space. Every year it happens and then I turn around and I have gone months and months without posting. I won't vow to change that this year. I've been around the block long enough to know all the cliches that go with resolutions and vows. I won't beat a... oh, never mind.

I do have something on my mind though. It's been bugging me for a few days and being that I do have a soap box of sorts, I think I'll stand on it for a minute.

Last Friday, our school took the whole school on a field trip to the park. Yep, the entire school. To the park. And? It was awesome. Easily the best day of the year so far.

Why the park? Why the entire school? What did we hope to accomplish?

Let me try and explain.

Our school is what is known as a redesigned high school in NC. The General Assembly of NC refers to us as a Cooperative and Innovative high school. What that really means is that we are charged with redesigning high school as we know it. We are trying to be innovative. Trying to throw out some of the old that may not work as well as it once did. Questioning why we do things. RETHINKING assumptions.

Our school also pulls students from 3 different school districts across our county.  We serve as a magnet school of sorts. Once students choose to attend here, students from different feeder schools are suddenly thrown into classes with people they have never met; people they may have little in common with. As a school, we hope to take all of these varied personalities and mold them into the best people they can be.

So we took them to the park, for a day of team building, away from the walls that are too small even for a small school.  Away from the rooms that are too small for the amount of students that have to be packed into them. Away from 3 weeks worth of classes, subjects, books, and teachers preaching the gospel of standards and curriculum, and into the great outdoors.

The planning that went into this undertaking was gargantuan. Things like buses, subs, schedules, approvals, permission slips, parent signatures, etc... all had to be worked out. And it was hard. Seemingly there was a never ending litany of hoops to jump through and obstacles to avoid. But in the end, we made it happen. And it was so worth it.

A beautiful day with students outside. They did team building activities, played soccer, went for walks, gave awards to each other, took pictures, recited monologues, played guitar, and blogged about their experiences.  When it was all over they cleaned up after themselves, thanked us for making it happen, and enjoyed the ride back to campus. As we unloaded the buses, I watched students from different grades and different walks of life hug each other. A few gave high fives. All had smiles on their faces.

The smiles and the hugs and the high fives,  they made it all worthwhile. For one day, actually for half a day, we had taken them out of school where the SCHOOLING takes place. We had put them in a different environment and LEARNING took place. And that's why redesign = rethinking. That's why all the trouble was worth it. And why I hope we do it again soon. No matter how hard it was to make it happen.