Monday, February 20, 2012

True learning involves direct action

I am one of the members of my school's cohort through Powerful Learning Practice as we explore how to implement 21st century learning skills effectively. This year we have joined several teachers from Pennsylvania schools. Our focus is on Inquiry-Driven Instruction. As a group, we decided to target our explorations on the question of "How can we make a difference?" Each of us is working with a group of students to have them try to find ways to answer that question and, in fact, make a difference. We are sharing our processes, obstacles, and successes through our blog.

I have to admit that I am not starting from scratch with this project. I have been teaching Peace Studies for several years and each year the students have been assigned a Peace Action Project.  However, I have adapted our project to include even more 21st century skills, especially including more feedback and insight from outside of our community.

Students in the class range from grades 10-12 and students in the school come from all over the world. Their major project is to identify a problem, research it, develop and implement an action plan (to make a difference), and to create a multi-media presentation of all of their work and their evaluation of it. Last year was the first year I required the multi-media presentation. In the past, students turned in term papers. I was blown away by their presentations. Not only were they exceptionally well-done, but I realized that a term paper is between the student and me. The presentations led to much greater learning.  I was sold.

This year my students have projects including a comparison of homophobia in China and the U.S. (a Chinese student is doing this one), puppy mills, food waste in local restaurants, human trafficking, teen dating abuse, and much more. Each student must create and enact an action plan to try to make a difference. These plans will be in effect for a minimum of six weeks. Part of their work will involve communicating with someone in the field who is already trying to make a difference. They must communicate via email, twitter, facebook, or some other social media, or skype. Note: We have discussed how to find people through these media and then how to communicate with them. In addition, we have discussed what type of information they should not be giving out.

For their plans they are required to identify what they will do, when, and what resources they need to accomplish their goals. It is through direct action that they will become even more involved in the process of being change-agents. Research is valuable but actually trying to make a difference opens a whole new world. Personally connecting with others, seeing the obstacles, and reviewing what has worked and how to make adjustments gives students skills that go well beyond what they can find in any book.  Let the deep learning begin!