Real projects. Better than book reports.
When we think about designing projects – like the farmer’s market in Bertie County, North Carolina built by our sister program, Studio H, and documented in the film “If You Build It” – we always think about whether the project can hold its own in the adult world. That is, a farmer’s market is a real place that we’re familiar with and has a purpose.
Full-scale architecture might not be possible in a seventh grade English classroom, but we can think of other projects that exist in real life and require reading, writing and speaking skills: A storytelling show (inspired by The Moth), a letter-writing campaign (inspired by Room for Debate), a public service music video (inspired by the 101 Slow Jam) or a comic book (we love Adrian Tomine’s 32 Stories, which he began working on when he was 17.)
The exemplar is a critical ingredient for excellent student projects because it illustrates what the work looks like in real life. It’s difficult for all of us to create excellent work without first recognizing what excellent work looks like, which is why we watch several episodes of Myth Busters with students before making our own episodes.
We recognize that some work in classrooms is designed for the purpose of practicing, not public display. But we also ask ourselves: What is the point of that practice? We believe that the prospect of public work actually spurs more deliberate improvement, rather than practice for the sake of practicing.
- We’ve documented a few of our favorite exemplars, across academic disciplines, in this PDF
- David Perkins writes about the value of doing the real work, not just practicing bits of it, in Making Learning Whole
- Searching for project ideas? We designed a set of cards just for you!