As part of my thesis work in the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York I have continued to examine the development of agency and self determination in students. This is part of a larger quest to create a democratic, collaborative classroom space where students "own" their education.
The following is a report on my first in-class test of a prototype entitled: My Future Self—Looking Back to See Ahead.
Moving on to Step 2 at PS 20, Brooklyn, NY
The bad news: the day started later than expected because the students were doing a math test for a baseline assessment in preparation for the upcoming New York State Regents Exam. The good news: Ms. Dixon dedicated the remainder of the day to working on the timeline project.
Our starting point for the day would be to begin research in class using tools including biographic books and the internet. I showed the students my own completed timeline as a model so they could see where we were headed. Many students took time during the session to examine and read from it.
When I looked at who the students had chosen for their three individuals many family members came up as well as Ms. Dixon. This led to an in-class interview—a chance to ask Ms. Dixon anything they wanted.
We rotated around the room as students asked questions. No surprise, there was much curiosity about her age, which she declined to answer. Beyond that, the kids asked about her birthday, education, and if she had pets.
An interesting discussion arose when she was asked, “Did you have any issues? Like problems or struggles in school?” She responded that school had always come easy to her but when she was in college biology was really challenging. The kids also learned that she had two masters degrees. That she had started in one direction—medicine—but went back to school when she realized that her true passion was to teach.
And then this question was posed, “Was there anything that happened historically that inspired her when she was young?”
Ms. Dixon responded, “I would have to really think about that. During the civil rights movement, I was very, very young. I would have to say that really it was the people in my life that inspired me.”
We took a break for lunch.
After lunch we moved on to the historical figures they had chosen. Students each named their figure and were encouraged to work together.
We had sports figures like Roberto Clemente, Bessie Coleman, Satchel Paige and Rey Mysterio. We had cultural figures like: Josephine Baker, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marilyn Monroe. There were many civic figures like Coretta Scott King, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. There was one scientist: Rachel Carson.
After spending 40 minutes researching, writing, drawing portraits, and taping timelines together, Ms. Dixon, led a 10-minute class discussion about what the students thought of the project so far.
There were a range of student comments:
- I found this experiment to be interesting and getting to interview you [Ms. Dixon] was my favorite part. I actually learned that you had difficulties...you earned your masters' degree and you had to go to school again.
- We got to learn about someone in a deeper way. When we researched we learned so much more. I got to learn a little more of my history. I got to learn about one person’s point of view and perspective.
- I thought this timeline was great. We are studying different perspectives of different cultures and people. And this tied into our essential question of social studies. Learning perspectives of different people, like Rosa Parks.
The most interesting conversation came when discussing Rosa Parks and the historical moment when she would not move to the back of the bus. One boy discovered something that really surprised him:
“When I was researching I noticed that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person that did not move to the back of the bus. There was actually a few other women that came before her. And I had a question: How come she received most of the recognition?
Ms. Dixon exclaimed, “You have made my day. You have made my day!”
Ms. Dixon then asked, “How does this impact you? We are talking about these people that inspired us. You thought one thing—Rosa Parks was the first and you found out about these other women and now you are thinking. Then you asked this powerful question.”
The student responded. “But I noticed something else, when I was looking at all these names. I noticed that they were all women. Could this make a difference in civil rights suffrage that it was all women that did not move to the back of the bus?”
Ms. Dixon’s response. “That’s a question for further research. You are looking at different perspectives of injustice and different perspectives of these historical events. You still have wonderings. Write those questions down. You are coming away with other things that you can research. I think that’s powerful.”
The students were instructed to finish and turn in their timelines on Monday.
On Tuesday we will do an analysis of the students findings. They were asked to save room on their timelines for their futures!
I want to thank Ms. Dixon for opening her classroom to me, as well as, Principal Lena Barbara and the students of PS 20. A big shout out to my fellow colleague at DSI, Elizabeth Abernathy who assisted in the classroom and took pictures. DK Holland of Inquiring Minds also assisted with the students.