For this trip we will venture to Berkeley, California to look at a course offering called Studio H hosted by the Realm Charter School. The program is very unique, in that it offers Grade 9 to 12 students a chance to design, implement and build unique solutions to projects based social issues / needs around the school and in the community. Really the program encompasses project based learning to its full extent, with real problems and and students developing and implementing real world solutions, from community chicken coops, container classrooms and even homeless housing. Now this might sound like it has little to do with technology but the students really have to use computers, modern tools and techniques, web research and communication, and a host of other technologies and problem-solving abilities to accomplish their goals.
As was stated in the Unit 6 outline, although the “emphasis is on work, the reality is that technology is so integrated into most of our lives that the same skills that help us do jobs also help us play our favourite music, connect with friends and family, order take-out, or do our banking.”
The program started in a struggling rural community, Windsor, CA, to engage students and help build solutions that would help engage students and to enrich the town and surrounding area. The problem they first confronted is to build a large market shelter that will host a farmer’s market as seen in the trailer of their documentary, If You Build It (watch before reading the rest of this blog!). The project likely grew in popularity and was moved to its current placement at the REALM charter school, which embraces and practice problem based, student centred learning. By having the students really oversee the projects with Studio H from start to finish while earning core credits (Math, Social, English), they are creating higher learning experiences, teaching labour skills, citizenship and engaging with collaborators and technology at the same time. The teachers and students, although greatly challenged at times, really produce many wonderful examples of authentic learning in a modern educational experience, while contributing to their community and ultimately inspiring others internationally. I personally really enjoy the balance of design, communication and building that one undertakes in a shop class, and this really pushes the boundaries of what students are capable of, contributing and learning from a project based approach to education. With support from teachers, students must sort out all the details, design, product research and ordering, finances, and the actual building of the structure. Then they really see the fruits of their labour far beyond what is studied, learned and built to what can be accomplished by a team and how it can affect so many around us. I would love to see something like this in Saskatchewan to confront homelessness,or housing on reserves, or community gardening, or eco-transportation within urban centres; instead of working in the bubble of a classroom, to really extend the learning beyond the walls of the school and create positive solutions, integrating technology, learning outcomes, project based learning, labour skills, communication and solutions to modern issues.
Challenges in implementing a program like this would be significant but over-comeable. I would foresee hurdles around administrative and financial support for such a program, equitability for students accepted into (and stay in) the program, safety, spaces to support the class and projects, and support from the community. Many of these concepts have been confronted on a smaller scale by Campus Regina Public with their mechanic program linked to Capital Car Dealership. Students learn in the mechanic shop at CRP and go on work terms to the dealership to learn what it is like in the workforce. Also TASCAP provides a somewhat comparable program whereby students help to construct a home for Habitat for Humanity, the missing piece is the confronting of and solution to unique problems and their ensuing solution that is integral to the development of future citizens. Another program that engages students along these lines would be the Wild Outdoor Research team of Grade 7 that study and learn about ecological issues around Regina.
In this light, I think this program really does a spectacular job of engaging students and accomplishing many of the goals in the Horizon Report for K-12, Future Work Skills 2020, and the NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework. For the Horizon report the program definitely connects with students as creators, collaborative learning, deeper learning approaches, redesigning learning spaces and rethinking how schools work (Pg 2 - NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition). I would also say the Studio H program encompasses most of the “key skill[s] needed in the workforce” described on pages 8 - 12 of the Future Works Skill 2020 document including: sense-making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, computational thinking, new-media literacy, trans-disciplinarity, design-mindset, cognitive load management and maybe even virtual collaboration on some levels. Lastly, the project based learning environment that confronts community based issues would develop most of the NCTE’s 21st century literacies whereby students become proficient with technology, build connections to solve problems, design and share information, manage, analyze and synthesize information, critically learn from multimedia, and attend to ethical issues. Although it might sound obvious, it is not apparent in our current educational systems, that to teach students to solve real world problems in the future, likely the best method might be to have them solve real world problems while in school!
Thanks for reading and to all those who have commented on my posts.