Head’s Corner

Eighth Grade Influencers Project – and a Call for “Experts”

There are three hallmarks to a strong, student-led project:

  1. Ambiguity – A teacher can never be sure what topic students will be fascinated by and will want to pursue.
  2. Messiness – Students are bound to struggle as they try to focus their project, and teachers always have more questions than answers to students’ quest for clarity.
  3. Uncertain Outcomes – Neither the teacher or the students know what the end product will be until well into the project.

On its face, each of these three characteristics seems like a weakness of project-based learning. In reality, it’s a superpower.

Deep learning experiences are full of surprises, serendipity, fits and starts, failure and creative solutions. This process is sometimes referred to as “emergent learning” because the understanding emerges from what feels like chaos.

Two weeks ago, the eighth-grade students started a project called “Influencers.” The objective of the project is to have students raise awareness about and influence public discussion and policy on an issue they care about. The first step of this project was to determine what those issues actually are. Using a survey tool and a word cloud app, we were able to “see” where their passions lay.

Once we started to understand the common interests, students grouped themselves around four of the above topics. With their topic selected, it was then time to develop a driving question that would influence a change they want to see in the world. Their driving question would be supported by steering questions that would determine the direction of their research.

For example, the group that is focusing on racism has created the following driving question: How can we influence society to be more accepting, and create a world free of hate speech and hate crimes? Guiding their research and supporting that driving question are steering questions that are built around “wonderings.” How has society influenced children to accept racism? What messages have social media sites sent to people of color? As they research, these steering questions sometimes flex, as students gain a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of their topic.

Over the next few weeks, students will begin to delve into their research and think about the best ways to present what they’ve learned, and to use what they’ve learned to influence society. Possibly the most interesting phase of their research is working with experts in the field. Students will be expected to learn from and possibly partner with others who share their passion.

As we move into this exciting phase of our work, we are hoping to interview “experts” (a term we use lightly) in the following fields:

  • LGBTQ+ Rights
  • Green Energy
  • The Psychology of Racism and Hate Crimes
  • Animal Abuse

If you, or someone you know, has some expertise in any of the above areas, please reach out and contact me. I have some world-changers who would love to connect. DOConnell@Saklan.org.


Author: The Saklan School Friday Blog

The Saklan School is a private Pre-K through 8 school located in Moraga, CA. Our mission is to think creatively, act compassionately, and live courageously.

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