Ambitious Projects

A problem:

There are some fundamental problems built into our typical conception of “school”.

  1. In most schools, students are afforded little freedom to choose to do what they want to do.
  2. In most schools, students aren’t even allowed to do very much — the “learning” that they’re supposed to do is imagined to be purely cognitive, and doesn’t involve affecting the world around them.
  3. In most schools, students are cut off from the community. Schools become a barrier to encountering the people in your neighborhood.
  4. In most schools, there are too few big projects: too much learning is done in small pieces. Holistic learning, however, should have a blend of projects of all sizes, from the micro to the epic.

Our basic plan:

Every quarter, each student takes on a fairly-epic independent project of their own choosing. With the help of a teacher, they come up with a measurable goal, a schedule for getting work done, and a team of mentors.

These projects have three (and a half!) qualities:

  1. They’re student-designed (though helped along by various adults), and thus tied into each student’s interests and goals.
  2. They’re ambitious, bigger in scope than most of what happens in school.
  3. They’re designed to be shared. They’re not graded; they’re presented to the community (and are often designed to be useful to the community).
  4. Often, they’re multi-disciplinary. They involve things in the real world, and thus don’t pay respects to academic boundaries.

Our goals:

We hope that these projects can be a safety net, of sorts, for student engagement: even if, by some odd occurrence, a student is bored by everything else in the curriculum, he will always be able to look forward to this.

These projects can also be a safety net for what we’re leaving out in the general curriculum: if a student, say, is obsessed with cars, cars can come into her independent projects.

Students can develop project management skills by doing these.

Students can fail here — they can bit off more than they can chew. (Failure is critical!)

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Walking into our classrooms during Independent Project time, you might see kids doing a crazy variety of things. 

Some specific questions:

  • How much time a day (or week) do we imagine allocating to these projects?
  • Are these in competition with the Learning in Depth projects? (In a way, everything in a curriculum is in competition with everything else for time, but I wonder if, goal-wise and feeling-wise, these two types of projects are in even more competition with each other.)
  • Do we start at kindergarten/first grade with these, or introduce them in middle school?
  • Quarterly — Lee, am I getting that right? Or are these yearly things?
  • Lee, where can we see examples of these?