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.
Finishing up Step 4 at PS 20, Brooklyn, NY
It was Thursday, the last day of state testing for the students, and like yesterday I returned after lunch. The kids were pretty frazzled and it took a while to get started.
For Ms. Dixon and me, this would be the most important part of the exercise. We hoped to see evidence of what the students had learned and taken away from this effort.
Ms. Dixon organized the students into separate groups. They put their desks together and I asked each group to use the Analyze What I See graphic organizer. I asked that they go around their tables, and speak one at a time about what the people they researched had in common, what was different, big events in their lives and turning points. They were also to discuss what they might have in common with the people they researched. We took 15 minutes.
Then as a summary exercise we had one student from each group report out the findings at their table. One student reported: “I noticed that all my people faced challenges. Now I think you might not be able to make a challenge completely go away but if you know it you can deal with it better.”
We then took 10 minutes for the students to complete the Findings page provided and identify three things that they might want to explore in the future or that they discovered about themselves in completing the project.
Below a few quotes:
“I have discovered that I am a pacifist like Martin Luther King Jr. because I hate to see violence and I feel love is the best cure.”
“I want to become a vet because I want to be helpful to animals (including humans)”
"LeBron James dropped out of college and I discovered that I don’t want to be exactly like him.”
“I want to explore saxophones more in the future.”
We collected everything and passed out a form entitled: The Next Time. It was presented as a mad lib. I told them I needed a critique of the Timeline Project for my thesis. On the form I asked each student to provide ideas for better ways to do the project.
They took 5 minutes. Here are quotes from their responses:
- make a diagram for each person’s lifetime
- don’t just do people who you admire
- bring in books for research and have an easier way to get pictures
- be given random people to research
- get more things to read and do more researching
- use pictures to describe their lives
- use plain paper for the initial research, confirm facts and then put on timeline
The form also asked, In doing this project I am most proud of the way I challenged myself to:
- dig deeper into a person’s life
- find out new things
- think of what I want to be
- do more reading
- analyze what I see
- research more
- write more and use my brain
- gather relevant information
- work harder than usual
- study more
Their favorite part of the project was:
- making the timeline
- interviewing Ms. Dixon
- finding a person
- getting information
I am thrilled with the responses from the students. I think they came up with some very sound ways to iterate on the lesson—things I did not think of myself. My next step is to conference with Ms. Dixon and get her feedback.
I want to thank Ms. Dixon for opening her classroom to me, as well as, Principal Lena Barbara and the students of PS 20. And DK Holland for all her support!