There are some fundamental problems built into our typical conception of "school".
- In most schools, students are afforded little freedom to choose to do what they want to do.
- 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.
- In most schools, students are cut off from the community. Schools become a barrier to encountering the people in your neighborhood.
- 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:
- They're student-designed (though helped along by various adults), and thus tied into each student's interests and goals.
- They're ambitious, bigger in scope than most of what happens in school.
- 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).
- Often, they're multi-disciplinary. They involve things in the real world, and thus don't pay respects to academic boundaries.
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. [Lee, little help?]
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?