Finding your Identity through PBL

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Part three of a three part series on The Community School, a PBL High School
Part 1: The Den & the Project
Part 2: The beautiful and fulfilling task of teaching project-based curriculum


David Goldbloom is fifteen and a 101 at The Community School, Spokane’s project-based curriculum high school. They don’t use the terms Freshman through Senior because those titles are so loaded up with positive and negative preconceptions. Thus David’s cohort are dubbed the 101’s, who spend a lot of time with the 201’s to institute a mentor/mentee dynamic.

My friend down the block, Cindy, is the principal and when I stopped in her yard (six feet away) at the end of a dog walk she was relaying her excitement about their first remotely administered project. On that ram-dash Monday when everyone was briefly briefed and sent home they elected to assign the new project Supporting a Community in Crisis. The faculty knew that preparation time for remote learning had been limited and they wanted to present a primer activity to transition into the new delivery method.
 


 

Supporting a Community in Crisis had a simple and useful premise, asking two questions:

  1. How have citizens been affected by and responded to crises in history?

  2. What kind of support can you, as an individual, provide?

 

If you remember from the first part of this series on TCS, their faculty designs, introduces, assesses and adjusts student-centered curriculum constantly to incorporate educational standards into real-life application and hands-on experience. The overall goal is to allow each student to drive their own learning and to engage in their community as they develop usable skills and knowledge. It works fantastically by the way.

This project garnered positive press and many of the other schools in the NewTech network adopted the concept for their programs. Cindy sent me this video of TCS teacher Nate Seaburg introducing the project. Cindy and David both tell me that Nate is reputable for his energy and entertainment value as well as his commitment to hands-on education.

David expressed the value of exploring historical crises in recognizing means to assist the community and also for the perspective on abnormal societal conditions. Sometimes things get weird and it’s good to remember that it does happen and we generally recover. As for his proposal, David and his friend are using Wix (www.wix.com) to develop a website providing details on all manner of COVID-19 fraud scenarios to avoid. I just discovered that someone fraudulently filed for unemployment on my behalf and that TCL received an affirmation letter to this extent; maybe I should’ve visited David’s website sooner.

 


 

I took this opportunity to interview David about his perspective on the TCS experience for the conclusion to this series. From the start he struck me as comfortable and talkative, so it surprised me that he mentioned his shyness just last September when he started the new school. As an eighth grader at an especially small religious school he was unaccustomed to large group settings. David said he never raised his hand and he preferred introversion. Some TCS students came to his school and sang its praises and he walked home and checked it out online. He really liked the idea of learning based around doing instead of exclusively listening. He loved the idea of applying learning in the real world. He mentioned this to his parents and they encouraged him to explore it.

Asked about his initial opinions of the school David noted two things specifically:

  1. The teachers offer trust in return for trust. “They began by trusting us to do the right thing rather than attempting to control everything we do.” Apparently one of their first assignments was to take their bus pass and go out into the community to “find resources.” First week of school, first year students and they tell them to leave campus to discover. When I asked what “resources” referred to he answered that part of the project was for each student to define the term: community services, free services, informative resources…

  2. David felt immediate inclusion into the student body. Everyone is different and not particularly cliquey, but each student feels welcome from the first day. Cindy had told me their sense of community is a major focus; it must be working.

 

We talked about Advisory. In fact, every time I’ve talked to anyone from TCS that term surfaced. Each student is assigned to a teacher for an advisory role for the duration of their attendance. I thought “oh yeah, home room,” but it’s much more than that. TCS is attempting to help students realize their goals and announce their aspirations while developing their skills, and their Advisor guides them through that process. 

David’s passion currently focuses on user-facing web-development, hence the motivation for his Supporting a Community in Crisis final project. If you get an email from David his digital signature at the bottom denotes “Councilor at Fandom” and I had to ask what that was. Fandom.com self-describes on their About page as “The fan-trusted source in entertainment, we provide a home to explore, contribute to, and celebrate the world of pop culture.” As a councilor David reviews submitted software applications to offer suggestions for improvement to developers. What I’m saying is: he doesn’t just play video games - he recognizes his desire to develop and he has actively engaged and begun experimenting. Plausibly he will be a talented developer before leaving high school, having a head start on someone just entering the IT field of study with college. Way to go David!

 


 

I’d really wanted the student perspective on project-based learning at TCS. Something had told me to save it for last because it’s the opinion bearing the most significance. No offense meant to David but I don’t believe Cindy cherry-picked the singular top-performing all star in an attempt to sway the results. Most of the students are as successful in cultivating their enthusiasms and identities at TCS, and they all get to do it in their own unique personal ways with educator guidance. The Community School exemplifies so many positive attributes:

  • Willingness to fail
  • Perpetual commitment to change and improvement
  • Inclusion
  • Community involvement
  • Individualism and collectivism in harmony

 

They also have the grades to validate their departure from tradition. And of course, they get an A++ from us.


Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur chef, a commercial pilot and a terrible painter.