The Innovation Lab is abuzz with activity. Between blog posts, battery projects on electric stove tops and drivable toy cars, and their work on the civil rights era, I often wonder how the students are able to process it all. They are so busy all the time, and constantly changing gears. In a span of fifteen minutes, I saw several students go from working on a math assignment, to a discussion on a recent edit on an essay with Mr. Belanger, a quick blog conference with Ms. Shaw, and then back to their math assignment. I am still reeling from my experiences last week at the Deeper Learning Conference and have not yet processed it all. But the students persevere, and their successes continue to mount. I looked this week on how they managed it. All around the Design Studio kids are working, but working the way they work best. Laying on the cushy risers in the corner, their headphones on at a table by themselves or having a quick snack before work (“snackie before workie” as Fjolla half jokingly refers to it), the students find their own ways to become inspired to learn what they need to learn and make it a part of themselves.
So the weekend is beginning and I put on my headphones and start listening to a CD produced by the High School for the Record Arts (HSRA.org) that we had received on our Deeper Learning conference to help me focus. The kids that produce these songs did not have an easy road. Most of them found traditional education did not suit their needs. It had no practical application to their lives as they saw it. It took a special place that molded a curriculum to suit their interests and round them out for a career by working on projects that required them to study everything from law, to accounting, to marketing to meet the needs of the project. They would use those skills to express everything from global issues to corporate sponsored messages. Skills and content that get continually reinforced so that they can draw upon that easily when needed, no matter what their future career might be.
Learning that is relevant. Not to us as teachers, but to the individual student. At HSRA it was based on the individual student passions. For our students and others in many project based learning programs, the project is focused around a theme in which content would work as the framework, but the product and whatever else is needed to reach that product is student choice, and they own it. It gives them not only a chance to find a passion, but more importantly to expand their horizons and give them a chance to reach outside of their comfort zones.
It is inspiring to me to see this work in so many ways. What we have to offer them is the foundations as they are needed, showing them all available resources, and supporting them on their path to success. Our world has a rich learning experience available and our students just need a little guidance to use resources outside of the classroom as well as having the equipment in the classroom to creature real world solutions and product. Truth in what we offer in not just facts, but in what is real to the students and their futures, not what is so often only useful for a traditional classroom. David “TC” Ellis, founder of the HSRA, shared with us his thoughts on what was important for finding success, and how to manage the inspiration he eventually found. Is what we offer our students authentic and fulfill a need?