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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Teaching on the River: Our First School Wide Project Based Immersion Project




Find more photos like this on Flint River Project


Literally, I haven't sat in my chair this week! I've been in my room 2-3 hours a day at least, but it has been up working with students and teachers. Truly, next to Flat Classroom Project, the Flint River Project has been one of the best teaching experiences of my life. I really don't know which is better.

Sometimes I have people who leave messages here thinking that I advocate some sort of technology-enabled 24/7 connection utopia where we are permanently hooked up to technology. So wrong.

As a farm girl, putting your toes in the dirt is so important -- being connected with nature. This past week, the students had science by taking water samples and going back to the lab to determine the water purity - is it drinkable? What quality level is it? They had history by looking at artifacts collected along the riverside in the past. They interviewed experts and historians who live along the river to get their stories. To learn math, they did detective work on hydrology and the massive flooding we had here in 1994, 1998, and recently in 2009. Their literature came in the form of writing poetry while sitting alongside the flint. Their art classes came from the photography and videography. They used technology as they took photographs, blogged, and created videos and shared with others on the Ning. PE was in the form of kayaking or getting on a pontoon boat. Lunch was a picnic on some sandbar or boat dock.

On Monday they will be rehearsing their final presentations and on Tuesday, I plan to live stream onto the Ning through the School Ustream channel at 8:30 am Tuesday. We'll see how it goes!

It took so many volunteers and an amazing curriculum director and principal to pull this off. It was huge - the teachers were amazing - the students were amazing. I cannot say enough about how much we all learned - or really, I can just speak for me - how much I learned.

I won't pretend to figure out how such a big undertaking could ever be done in a huge school or where many parents won't even let their kids go on field trips. I don't know how schools that are so clamped down on because of school safety could consider taking kids kayaking.

What I do know is that it was real, authentic, deep, meaningful, learning - the kind that takes months compressed into a week. Immersion can be done. I've seen nature learning information on edutopia for some time now. It is project based learning but a HUGE, tremendously big project!

Not to tell any of you that my little school is educational utopia, but it is a place that innovates, learns, and progresses with the research we learn in our professional development classes. It is a privalege to teach among teachers who live and breathe teacherpreneurship and our principal expects teachers to be teacherpreneurs.

Perhaps I've been offline because it has finally happened.

So many technology integrators wish wish wish that they could get the other teachers ready to blog, make videos, Ning, etc. Well, it happened here and through this project and it has all happened within this one week. We've all learned in huge ways but largely because the curriculum director told us all we'd present to the whole school, we'd create triboards, every student would blog and create one other post (either pictures, video or a blog) and that every group would create a 3-5 minute movie. Absenteeism, which usually takes an uptick the last full week before school gets out, was literally nonexistent. Everyone was there, every day.

The funny thing is that previous seniors said, "Why didn't you do something like that with us?" Upcoming middle schoolers said, "Why don't you do something like this with us?" These students are working hard. These teachers are working hard. And the learning is intense.

We wouldn't do this every week all year - but it is the perfect summation for the end of the year. It is one of those things I'll tell you more about when I can speak again.

I've run into several parents this week and asked how their children were enjoying the experience -- it has been funny. One dad said:

"I don't know, my child has been asleep by 5 pm every day."

Another mother:

"My child has either been eating, asleep, or talking about what she's learned."

Another parent:

"Whatever you're doing - he's worn out!"

In so many ways, I have a huge, enormous amount of respect for the teachers I work with, our curriculum director, and our principal. It is huge - bigger than any of us - rich in learning.

Those of you who are used to me blogging 5-6 times a week - I thought you might like to know where I was all week! It is still sinking in.

Teaching on the river - it was amazing and the project is not over yet. What will happen next week? What will happen as these students are now conservationists in very powerful ways -- only the future will tell. And it will be a beautiful story it tells, I have a feeling.

When you look at your area and wish your students knew more history - had more of an appreciation for the nature -- didn't litter -- understood the history of your land -- consider getting them out in it.

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