Enrichment Projects

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I really liked this graphic from Kim Cofino as it captures the ‘vibe’ that I’ve been trying to establish in my classroom. I always find myself taking a moment when students ask me about A-E grades, even though my school doesn’t use them in K-8. I generally try and explain the project in terms of agency — what will you know and be able to do at the end of this — and why would you care or put that to work.

Despite the subtle naming of formative assessments in education, the bell curve always feels present as does the cultural pressure to compare students within a school and with the external ‘average’. It’s always felt odd that ‘the average’ is so present in teaching – whether this student is below, above or just average. The context is glossed over.

The niggling internal voice shouts: what are you doing to combat the tractor-beam of ‘average’. What am I (and my awesome colleagues) able to do and facilitate that smashes right though that?

This term, we’ve been running an ‘enrichment’ aka ‘passion project’ where students get to choose from three things

  • Learn a new skill
  • Make something new
  • Help someone

On a Friday, students spend a few hours a week working on their project with no external pressure. We work in an open classroom, with 4 teachers and about 100 students, and so there are no obvious subject lines to cross, nor any obvious physical space-barriers.

The in-built elements of ‘enrichment projects’ are quite small – learning about setting SMART goals and organising a parent-facing expo. The range of project ideas is vast, and it reminds me constantly how narrow formal education is — and has to be — to function in its current form.

The passion project is a great way to experience the power of intrinsic motivation – as students use the Internet and their own peer/parent connections. More than that, I think that investing a few hours a week in it, builds a lot of capital with the students in mandated content areas as students see teachers stepping out of their conceptual subject-role and become collaborators and supporters.

Whether the idea is simple – to learn to juggle or complicated – build a platformer in Unity the passion project/enrichment project presents students with a real opportunity to move past compliance — and grade stress (real or imagined). This weekly session allows us to look more deeply at student 4Cs (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication) skills in a context of interest, engagement and motivation as Kim points out.

 

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