By Lars Kuelling, Academic Dean
“The Harley School is live” kept popping up in my Facebook notifications this past week. Normally, I tend to ignore those sorts of things, but this time, I tuned in as Grade 7 students shared their experiences from the annual field trip to Boston, Massachusetts. Rather than just seeing their broadcasts as a “cute” way to see the students on their field trip, I found myself putting on my hat as the Academic Dean to assess the educational value of their video project.
The more I watched, the more I realized that their broadcasts ticked many of the boxes of good progressive education. Collaboration? Check. Intrinsic motivation? Check. Deep understanding, active learning, taking kids seriously? Check, check, check.
It was apparent the students had prepared in advance for their broadcasts from each spot. Asha described different aquatic species at the New England Aquarium, Kevin riffed about the surprisingly modern sleeping accommodations and the long-lasting thatch roofs at
Plimoth Plantation, and Claire talked about the Old North Church and the importance of its geographic location to the warning sent by lantern to the colonists.
On the last day, Emily told the story of the skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, detailing how the British lined up in traditional military ranks while the colonists gained the advantage by fighting in a dispersed pattern. As she described the lay of the land and how the British had set up for the battle, I imagined her preparation as she got ready to go live: “What did I already learn about the battle? How did the terrain – especially the river and bridge – affect the battle? How can I share my understanding of the battle with my viewers through a video presentation?”
By broadcasting live from the sites of these historic events, the students demonstrated a deeper understanding of the events that had occurred there. The act of sto
rytelling built off of their experience with their podcasting flex time class, and the use of a different medium – video – was a new way for them to share their interest in storytelling, the focus of their podcasts.
Live broadcasts required the students to pull on their prior knowledge in different ways t
han a short answer or essay question might on a typical test. Not only did they need to share their prior knowledge about the site they visited, they also had to provide an onsite analysis using critical thinking skills. The additional challenge above and beyond this intellectual exercise was to be engaging while handling the technical difficulties of working with a
mic and in front of a camera; unlike a recorded podcast, going live meant they didn’t get any do-overs.
The most impressive part of the project was the way in which their adult co-collaborator, Art Rothfuss, took them seriously as they actively constructed their learning. In his web post titled Progressive Education: Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find, Alfie Kohn says that in active learning, “students play a vital role in helping to design the curriculum, formulate the questions, seek out (and create) answers, think through possibilities, and evaluate how successful they — and their teachers — have been.” Art had clearly put the students at the center of the design of the project, had challenged them to investigate and to create, and had partnered with them on their learning adventure. And, that’s at the heart of good progressive education.
So, if you see a Facebook notification pop up to say “The Harley School is live”, stop what you’re doing and join in…you might just see student-centered learning at its best!