Friday, January 3, 2020

More Projects that Matter in 2020

This morning I found myself thinking about project based learning and the role that makerspaces can play supporting a project based learning environment where student create work that matters and where we believe that our students can achieve amazing outcomes. 

My reflections were sparked by two things that happened as I was enjoying my morning coffee. 

The first  was a request I received from an alumni student who located me through Facebook. 

The second was reading through the 10 things Katie Martin has learned about change in education this decade as it came across my morning news feed. 

The student request really drove home NO. 9 and 10 on Katie's list --

Doing work that matters, matters 10. Our beliefs impact opportunities and access for learners.

The name on the Facebook friend request seemed familiar.  I almost didn't accept.  I'm glad I did. It turned out that the request was from a former student who asked if I had a copy of a project he did 20 years ago -- an interview with his Grandma. His grandma had just passed and he was hoping to find the interview he had contributed to a web project we had created about Franco American culture in our community. The website - "Life on the Border" included hundreds of interviews with first generation immigrants from Quebec into our 'border community" in northeastern Vermont.   

The fact that this student went through much effort to find a way to contact me was the first sign that this project had been meaningful to him as a student. The fact that he was thinking about this project almost 20 years later and wanted to reconnect with it at this moment in his life was testimony that we were doing 'work that matters."

As I read his request, I was bummed out by the fact that the server which hosted the project website was at a non profit that was no longer in existence. Touched by the request, I had an idea and started to use "The Way Back Machine" to see if there might be some remnants of the project archived on line.   

I was not able to find the video interview,  but I did find two archived webpages that this student has created.  The first was a piece that he had written in FRENCH summarizing the interview with his grandmother. 

Eric pushed further asking if the school might possibly have the video footage. This brought back memories of my students learning how to create a streaming server to host the media for this event.  This was long before Google Sites, YouTube or Spotify!  Through lots of trial and error, my students managed to get Darwin Streaming Server up and running, and FTP's our media to a server in Montpelier, Vermont.

Darwin Streaming Server (DSS) was the first open sourced RTP/RTSP streaming server.[1] It was released March 16, 1999 and is a fully featured RTSP/RTP media streaming server capable of streaming a variety of media types including H.264/MPEG-4 AVCMPEG-4 Part 2 and 3GP.
They were not only doing work that mattered, but they were doing it because I believed that they were capable (much more capable than I) or figuring it out.  I had managed to get my hands on the hard drive from that server before it was retired.  Why?  because it was work that mattered!  It was authentic! It was important to the students and their community.  It represented such amazing learning; I had aspiration to do something with it, someday.  Perhaps, this request will lead to our finding someone to help us access that media on a 20 year old SCSI hard drive.  

As I think about these times in my classroom (almost a decade ago) and I'm reminded of this timeless quote from almost a century ago from another Vermont educator.

AS we approach the new year, many of us think back of conversations we have been having since the turn of the century around Vision 2020!   Many of our aspirations for Vision 2020 are quite similar to Dewey's aspiration for our children.   

Katie Martin's  comment  in my morning stream that "2020 is no longer the future, it’s literally next week" is spot on!   Number 9 and Number 10 in Katie's list especially resonate with my beliefs about  teaching and learning. 

9. Doing work that matters, matters. 
... When the work is authentic and purposeful, students not only learn and improve in reading, speaking, writing and communicating but she also demonstrated them in ways that were authentic and meaningful to her which provides purpose and motivation for learning. 

10 . Our beliefs impact opportunities and access for learners. 
"If we really want to create learning environments in our schools where all learners are valued and seen as capable of achieving desired outcomes, we have to begin with the belief that they can." 

The project that Eric (our past student) was remembering as he approached his grandmother's funeral was grounded in these two tenets.  My project based classroom had revolved around Cyberfair from Global School Net for quite a few years. That year - the project went Platinum.

The students worked with their community to develop a vision of the project. We had to learn new skills with new technologies in order to implement that vision.   But together, we figured it out - and 20 years later, this memory still lives in them and some pieces are still alive in Internet Archives.

As Eric's request had me searching through Internet archives, I thought about Ron Berger's belief that our students are capable of and deserve the opportunity to create beautiful work.   I thought about the fact that the tools in many of our school maker spaces allow us to recreate similar learning experiences for our students.  They allow us to create a vision, and make it come to life by learning tools and processes that are challenging us in ways that traditional classroom assignments can not. 

Katie  also refers to Ron Berger in her article.
... Ron Berger reminds us in this article that,  “when we finish school and enter the world of work, we are asked to create work of value—scientific reports, business plans, websites, books, architectural blueprints, graphic artwork, investment proposals, medical devices and software applications.  
There are many opportunities for students to learn through creating and making.  Teachers often assign projects that have students create something in order to make stronger connections with our content.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves, "What will happen to the work that your students create?-  Will it end up in the recycle bin? Or will it end up being archived - as work that matters."  

What needs to happen for our students to spend time on 'work that matters"?  Obviously the first step is to believe that they can do work that matters.   Another step is to provide them with tools by which to do work that matters.   We've come a long way towards providing students with access to digital tool in the past decade.  Let's continue to do this.  Let's continue to look for additional tools and opportunities -- like those found in school makerspaces. 


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