My dream is to build the world’s first underground park in New York City.
I always knew as a kid that I wanted to make a difference, and to somehow make the world more beautiful, more interesting and more just. I just didn’t really know how.
My dream is _______________________.
What a powerful sentence starter. What a powerful action starter. If we only treated it that way more often. What a profound entry point into an endless supply of worthwhile projects. And not the kind of “dessert-at-the-end” style projects that are all too common in schools when the “important content” has already been “covered.” But the kind of projects that serve as the meal and the fundamental sustenance on which the nutrients of interdisciplinary topics are baked in and intentionally made part of the main course. (On a brief aside, this makes me think that we might need “nutrition labels” on projects — like those nutrition labels on our cereal boxes and cans of food. But in this case, the learner would progressively include what learnings are contained in his or her project.)
People from all over contact me to talk about project work. I think more than a few struggle with seeing what others view as robust and vigorous projects. So, I look for examples to show people. Dan Barasch’s TED talk is just one such example. And it’s an excellent six minute view into how dreaming can materialize into a vibrant project of inquiry, innovation, and impact.
When Dan shares his vision and work on the Lowline, I also see the potential for almost any high schooler or middle schooler to showcase similar stories of their dreams and projects. Maybe they would’t have the 3D computer renderings of the proposed space, and maybe they wouldn’t have the solar arrays built for a pilot installation. Or maybe they could. With partnerships of internal and external experts. If not, they could be coached and supported to produce comparable and lower-resolution prototypes, sketches, concept drawings, etc.
So many possibilities to dig into one’s dreams. And as an integral part of schooling.
As this blog post was bouncing around in my head waiting for me to put it in writing, I re-watched October Sky with my family.
I was reminded of how Homer Hickam’s project started with an observation of Sputnik, a curious spark about rocketry, and a teacher who did not let her lack of knowledge about rocket science allow her to say, “I can’t do this — I don’t know anything about rocketry and it’s not part of our curriculum.” Still, Homer’s project, at least how it was portrayed in the movie, was mostly confined to time outside of school and the project work only “counted” in school thanks to the science fair possibility.
But what if that work had actually been a fundamental part of Homer’s schooling? And not simply confined to “Science” class, but originated in a project-block such that the subject-areas were allowed to weave together as they naturally do, unbridled by the typical boundaries of 55-minute, subject-narrow periods.
At the risk of seeming like this post is “all over the place,” I also remembered Dolphin Tale as my family watched October Sky last Friday night and visions of the Lowline project connected in my mind. Dolphin Tale is another “based on a true story” movie that shows how a student struggling with typical school finds a project that lights his heart and mind on fire. I first saw the movie on Oct. 1, 2011. I know because I walked out of the theatre and had to quickly record a blog post by phone.
Why do so many project ideas seem to happen outside of school? Why can’t they BE school? At least a part of school.
So, here are three examples that I believe help many people visualize the power of project-driven, transdisciplinary learning. I hope they help you see the potential of drawing this form of working and learning into our next iterations of school.
An open letter to Mount Vernon Faculty and Staff:
Dear Mount Vernon Faculty and Staff:
I love a good story. I particularly love story that reveals to us some of the fruits of our labors and reminds us of the motivations for why we do some of what we do.
“Learners apply knowledge to make an impact.” “Empathy influences learning.”
As designers, you empower your learners to be change agents, and our school family believes so deeply in empathy and the power of applied learning. Through your work, you have helped spring forth the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation and events like #fuse14 where we can share our practice and nurture innovators beyond our own campus and immediate community.
Thanks to #fuse14 and our amazing partnership with MODA, we helped play a part in a story of Francis W. Parker School exhibiting pieces of MODA’s recent “Design for Social Impact” show – the show that was up when we spent a night at MODA for a segment of #fuse14. You can read about it here: https://www.fwparker.org/MODAExhibit
I love thinking that learners in Chicago are emboldened and inspired to see themselves even more as design thinkers and change makers. And I love that we got to be a part of that story through your committed work, sharing the well, and collaborating with our partner MODA.
A number of other schools around the country and world have let us know that they are implementing design thinking thanks to the support and practice that we provided them at #fuse14.
Let’s do so again, and help share the well to nurture even more innovators.
#fuse15 is June 3, 4, 5. Mark the date and continue to make your mark!
THANK YOU for all you do and share and inspire!