Saturday, March 19, 2016

This week our focus is on shared purpose — a principle of connected learning that I find particularly interesting as well as complex. What are examples of shared purpose you have seen or experienced? What does it mean to learn with a shared purpose? And what are the implications?

An example that comes to mind for me around shared purpose are the projects we do in the afterschool program. One of the major aspects of our program centers around the idea of project based learning. In the beginning of the year, as we do our 'get to now you activities' we ask the students to help us create an interest wall. On this wall the students and staff write/draw all the things that they are interested in learning more about. It is from this wall than we then create projects with open ended questions that we then spend weeks, or a few months exploring. One such topic  centered around space. We were reading about Virgin Air and shuttles and the students asked, 'what would I need if I were to travel to the moon?' Through this question students were able to explore various topics that were of interest to them. Whats more important is that the students drove the questions, and although the project dealt with space the students still found ways to relate everything we did to their lives and community. Part of our moon exploration focused on our study of rocks, stones and gemstones. We learned about the usual space rocks, then one student said, 'what if we could capture an astroid, think about all the stuff we could do.'  They then started reading articles and discussing ways the neighborhood could/would benefit from the resource, and they designed a mock plaza with a description for this new resource. I could spend another 2 pages describing all the different things that came out of this one project. It was amazing! What made it better was having some of their teachers come downstairs to see students they would describe as 'problematic' or 'disinterested' often being the leaders in the discussions and in the group work. Through this project I was also able to learn so much more about the neighborhood and their families as well. Through our neighborhood 'space walks' we talked about the community including the buildings, people we saw, and who we didn't see. One walk in particular even lead to our following around community and with 5th grade gentrification. I couldn't believe that I was having a conversation around this topic with 5th graders! Although I had to teach them the word, they had the concept down, complete with arguments for and against it. Who knew!

And for me this is what it means to learn through shared purpose. I liked the reading the article Christina posted A Shared Purpose Drives Collaboration. As the director of this program it was my job to motivate my staff to ask what they like, why and what they could do about it. I would often ask them whats something they are thinking about, something they want to do, or something that bothers them. Without even realizing it, many would take these same questions, or the topics they were discussing and push their groups in the same way. The previous year I went mad having to plan, create and make all the lessons, but through the various conversations between the staff, myself, and our students were were able to guide what we learned about in a way that was meaningful to us. The students also realized that they had a voice, and many relished being the ones guiding many of our discussions, because we all know they usually don't have the right. I am also thinking of shared purpose in terms of working with my fellow educators. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am connected to a TAG group whose shared purpose is the remaking of the african-american studies curricula. On paper that is the shared purpose of this group, however that is just the tip of the iceberg. After listening to various members of this group (all are welcomed!) I see that this group is out to change more than the curricula. This group wants to change the way students are educated, the way teachers interact with students, and the way we interact with each other. This group wants to have a serious conversation about how we educate and produce the next group of conscious adults that can make Philadelphia, and the world a place worth thriving in.

So what if this was how we educated all of our children? I can't help but be slightly pessimistic when asking this question. Why? Because I can see this, just like the idea of equitable connectivity seriously making an impact in the way in which all students learn. This gives my students weapons that this society does not want them to have. Confidence, because they are challenged to speak up about what they like in an effective manner. Curiosity, because they will constantly wonder how they can improve or change what they see. Problem solving and people skills, because they are working together to attack the questions they raise. There is more, but i believe the point has been made....

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