Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It's Not Just About the Project

For a whole week, new High Tech High teachers attend a week-long deep dive into all things related to project-based learning called Odyssey. This year there are approximately 125+ new teachers, veteran teachers and directors. Yesterday, the large group was broken into 5 smaller "project slice" groups of roughly 25 participants. Each project slice is like a condensed version of a project-based learning experience--excepted condensed from several weeks to one week.

After a very good icebreaker, our project group began by writing a response to this prompt:

"If you found out that you had to leave your home and your city (maybe for good), what (could be people, belongings) would you take with you? Why?" I listed: 1) my wife, my boys, my cats and my shih tzu--for companionship and love; 2) my wallet, keys, cellphone, toolbox--for practical purposes, etc. All good right?

Then, we were asked to open a folder located in the center of our group's table.  Each folder contained 7 photographic profiles of Syrian refugees with a short vignette about each person and his or her belongings. Suddenly, it was not just a fanciful or pleasant exercise. It was about real people, real conflict, in a real context--super timely. There was an elementary age child, a barber, a mother, a sister, an artist, a soccer player, a person in a wheelchair.

It was only the beginning of this experience, and yet we were all overcome with a noticeable sense of empathy for the people captured in the photos. One of our colleagues posed this question to the group: "What is our responsibility to our global neighbors?"Other insights included the importance of human connection and how hope might emerge out of despair.

What happens when we put people at the center of our studies? What happens to the learner's experience when they explore REAL topics and the impact on REAL people? More, what happens when you engage the hearts and minds of learners?

As we transitioned to the next activity, the the facilitator* pointed out purposefully:

"Passion, curiosity, and inquiry are used to call people to action" in the design of powerful projects. 

It is not just about the projects, but rather using projects as a window into humanity and as a vehicle of personal transformation.

I am looking to Day 2!!!! This is why I LOVE PROJECT BASED LEARNING.

*The project slice was facilitated by Alec Patton (HTH Chula Vista) and Anna Chiles (HTH Media Arts) 

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