Independent Students?

As I was reading about the education project in Let Kids Rule the School. I was reminded of the overarching questions we used at the River School.  This is the same place I learned and first taught the Systems Model.

I went on to use each of the overarching questions we developed at the River School* in my next two teaching gigs.  The student’s final project was “Answer the question.”  At the beginning of the school year each group would look at me as if I were crazy.  I mean how could I expect 7th graders to answer the question “What is my relationship to the earth?”  And how could I expect inner city high school freshmen in Los Angeles tackle a question like “What does it mean to be human?”

It is on my list to write up the details of how I built a foundation of skills with these students so that they could tackle these questions.  And tackle them exceptionally well.

Two projects from my later two groups of students stand out.  The first was a 7th grade boy who was very bright but had other things on his mind that often put school at the bottom of the list.  I made them design their own final projects, setting their own deadlines, guiding them through the research process.  He had planned to create a video.  The day after his first batch of filming his mother was at school.  She told me how the night before he had told her that he needed to film.  Frustrated at his usual talent for procrastinating until the last minute she had begun to lecture him about putting things off.  He then proceeded to pull out his plan and explained to her that he had been planning and if he was going to get his project done on time, he needed to film that night.  His mother expressed her amazement and joy at seeing her son planning.  And his project turned out great!

The second project was one that even I wondered if she would pull it off. She decided to focus on her own learning obstacles.  She had incredible support from the Special Education Teacher, the Principal and the Assistant Principal.  When she wanted to learn more about how her brain worked, the Principal brought in a colleague from her PhD program for the student to interview.  The Technology Teacher helped her put together portions of videos.  The end result was nothing that any of us would have expected from her back in September.  It far exceeded anything she ever did at school.

I do honestly believe that more often than not, our current educational system is a hindrance to our students.  And I also believe there are many great teachers out there fighting to do the things they know make education good.

*The three overarching questions, still used at River School, based on the principles taught by Ed Clark in Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum are as follows:

  • 6th grade: What does it mean to be human?
  • 7th grade: What is our relationship with the Earth?
  • 8th grade: How does a United States citizen act responsibly in the global community?

I will be writing up the details to how I took these principles and incorporated them into a single science classroom with the culminating final project of “Answer the question.”

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