When Andy and I set out to create an alternative learning environment four years ago, we had a few goals in mind, all surrounding flexibility – flexibility in environment, curriculum, and pacing, but we didn’t quite know what it might look like or how we might pull it off. As we began our research and sought out schools to visit, conferences to attend, and other resources to review, we were immediately struck by an idea witnessed while visiting the FLIGHT Academy in Waukesha, WI, an alternative personalized learning environment. The idea was Passion Projects.
Though the ARCTIC Zone has morphed in many ways over the last few years, we have remained grounded in our aim to immerse students in learning that envelops their own ideas, passions, and interests. This idea often stimulates many questions about how our students are able to cover the same content standards as other middle school students. This past week, four different passion projects were launched by ARCTIC Zone students. I would like to share briefly about the projects and the standards these students chose to focus on for each project.
Class Pet Project
Michelle is a 7th grade student in the ARCTIC Zone who had her heart set on obtaining a classroom pet this year. She decided to work with power standard Science 5 (understanding animal cells and the processes that affect their function) and Tech 4 (showing respect for information on the internet that belongs to others). After conducting research and practice work about animal care and creating a bibliography of the sources used during her research, Michelle made contact with an employee at our school who was looking for a new home for her pet rabbit. We all met Rocket when he was brought to his new home, our classroom, on Friday. Michelle is currently working on a permission slip for students who wish to care for Rocket over our upcoming winter break.
Yoga Class Project
Maddie, a 6th grade student, loves yoga and wants to share what she knows with other students. With permission from administration and our custodial staff, she now has a spot designated for her yoga class which she teaches during Resource at the end of the day, twice a week. Though her first class had lower attendance than she had hoped, her sign-up sheet looks promising for the coming week. Her focus standards for this project are ELA 2 (reading and comprehending informational texts) and SS 12 (analyzing factors that change the perspectives of people during different historical eras). Have you ever thought about where yoga came from and how people’s thoughts toward it have changed over time? Just ask Maddie…
Ceiling Tile Project
Grace is a 7th grader who thought it would be special to use ceiling tiles in our hallways as a platform to spread inspirational messages to all who walk by. Using power standards ELA 12 (producing clear, coherent writing) and SS 13 (understanding cause and effect), and with the approval of administration and our custodial staff, she installed two tiles this week just outside our downstairs classroom. Voices in the hallway and the ideas spreading from this small project are enough to make anyone smile.
Magic the Gathering Club Project
Two 7th grade boys, Mason and Ben, set out to teach as many people about Magic the Gathering as possible. They created informational flyers and wrote an informational speech that was delivered to all ARCTIC grade level Resources using ELA 4 (proper punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and grammar) and ELA 13 (writing an informational text). They gathered supplies and received a very large supply donation from another student’s family. Then on Friday, they launched their very first club meeting where many students attended to either play or learn how to play. All students were sent home with a practice deck of cards to prepare for next week’s club meeting.
If you look and think hard enough, there are ways to connect what appear to be the most outrageous ideas to the most traditional content standards. The content itself might be different from another classroom, but the knowledge or skill at the foundation of the standard is there. The fun is in finding the connection. The beauty is in seeing them come to life.
What I love most about project-based learning is the other stuff they pick up along the way that does not pertain to content standards at all. In all of the mentioned projects above, students were required to communicate with teachers, administration, and/or custodial staff. They were challenged to plan and organize and in some cases step into leadership roles among their peers. And it’s all because they chose to be there.