Connecting One-to-One to the World: The Importance of Project-Based Learning
A school district I am working with is moving very cautiously and purposefully toward one-to-one implementation in its high school in fall 2007. It will distribute carts of iBooks to four classrooms by way of a pilot program a full year before the rest of the school comes on board.
This summer, I am going to work with these four teachers and others around the design of technology-rich projects that leverage the potential of the tools and the power of connecting kids to things that are real. This district understands that unless you change the pedagogy and engage kids and teachers in opportunities for project-based learning, you will never fully realize the potential of a one-to-one implementation and never leverage the power to engage all students and bridge the all-too-common gap between community and school.
But one of the teachers, Dave Ehrhart, a veteran social studies teacher, has already moved ahead with a project that seems to me to be a model of the kinds of things now possible.
One of his classes is Current Events, and he has established a connection with a past student who is a soldier in Iraq. His kids are able to post messages to this soldier from the classroom, as well as participate in videoconferences from which they are getting the inside story on today's news from, quite literally, the front lines.
In a posting dated March 2, 2006, the soldier says, "Yesterday we (my team) were escorting a general around our area when my truck got hit by an IED. We also had several IA (Iraqi Army) trucks with us. We followed our training and handled the initial issues accordingly. When we dismounted..." He also says, "Most Iraqis now have satellite and watch some of the same news that we watch in America -- namely, CNN. On Arabic news stations, political and religious leaders from both sides have made public statements, urging all Iraqis to work together."
Yes, these kids are still expected to read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch network news, but they also have their own reporter in the field. But as they move ahead into their futures in which the twenty-first-century skill of effective communication will be vital, I have to believe these kids will be ahead of the game, thanks to their work with Ehrhart and others. Oh, and the soldier says that the interaction has value for him as well -- and perhaps that, in the end, is one of the most important parts of the lesson.