I’ve always been a proponent of student voice since 1990. In the media/English department, student leadership advisor or site leader. I’ve always felt that students had good ideas, but also new, distinctive, or better ideas. In their quest to discover their own voice and position in the world, kids may notice things we don’t or can’t see. In 1999, students created a school-wide learning activity to address racial and cultural challenges (see Harmony at Buchanan High School). Since then, I’ve felt that projects with real-world outcomes may help kids become motivated, empathic, and involved citizens. A recent example is the outpouring of student voice following the Parkland, Florida, tragedy.
In PBL, we can either start with a tough topic or question and then attach it to our standards, or we can start with our standards and apply them to a real-world challenge. Involvement of students, student voice, relevance and authenticity are all important aspects of this second method. But we do it because jobs are here. Jobs are generated and grown when we seek to solve our world’s and people’s challenges. Our students are ready to handle global issues. They can speak. They have the means. They are not hesitant to collaborate and build new communities ready to tackle problems.
It is with great pride that I watch the youngsters in Parkland, Florida and across the country find their voices and change the narrative. Their peers around the country aren’t scared to employ new technologies and build new professional networks to handle today’s and tomorrow’s concerns. Let’s face it, our youth are our best hope for improving our planet’s myriad difficulties.
Keeping this in mind, we currently face a number of real-world issues (and probably will for a long time). But by attacking our challenges with innovative solutions, we can undoubtedly propel progress forward. There is magic in that movement. There’s progress. Change occurs. Our collective human mission is to creatively cooperate, critically analyse, and communicate in ways that improve our world.
Our students are eager to speak up and issue calls to action. The following ideas are not listed, but rather my “top seven” go-to ideas for projects that engage students, utilise resources, and maintain relevance and authenticity. They are also not subject-specific. These project challenges offer various chances for English, science, social science, math, and other subjects. Them:
1) Climate Change: The effects of climate change will be felt by our students. There may not be a single issue that affects them all. Students have seen the evidence and changes and are listening to scientists. Aside from the weather, sea levels, food security, water and air quality are all affected by this serious issue. There are several groups attempting to bring climate change initiatives and curriculum to teachers and students.
2) Health Care – As a major national debate topic, students are becoming aware of issues such as escalating costs, access, quality, and equity. They are starting to see the value both personally and societally. Like climate change, children are discovering that we are not necessarily leading the world in this field. But they also see how we can learn from others throughout the world and how we can be different. Our universities, like many others, are leading the way on this. Universities like Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford are leading the way.
3) Food Insecurity – As our pupils become more conscious of their surroundings and peers, they notice differences. Socioeconomic status, growth prospects, housing, security, and support services. Because 13 million children live in food insecure homes, practically every student and instructor knows someone who is hungry every day. This can lead to high quality project oriented learning with research, data analysis, various solutions, and finally a range of calls to action. Follow Power Of A Plant author Stephen Ritz and the Green Bronx Machine to see how one teacher and his kids revolutionised their school and community around food insecurity.
4) Violence — Given the current state of the nation, this is expected. But the issues and ideas are not new. Yes, they are political, but young people care. And they know they can do something about their collective safety and future. Students can learn about school violence and safety, how to advocate, organise, campaign, and solicit support, and most importantly, hope for reform. They also recognise that while they are concerned about school safety, our society and culture have issues related to violence that they want addressed. Following the recent Florida event and student response, the New York Times has produced a list of tools for educators.
5) Homelessness “Think globally, act locally,” we’re told. Homelessness is gaining more and more attention as more cities struggle with an increasing homeless population. This issue, like others, is an excellent approach to inspire empathy in our children. Everyone says we want to produce adults who can solve issues, enhance communities, and look beyond ourselves. This topic can assist pupils improve certain talents. Finally, our homeless student population is expanding. So, all is well. Many have paved the way for us to include this in our curriculum. Homeless Hub and Learning To Give are just a few of the many leading organisations.
6) Sustainability – A global concern affecting energy, food, resources, economics, health, and wellness. Students are more aware that addressing environmental issues is critical to our species’ survival. They recognise that this problem necessitates new thinking, priorities, standards, and practises. Innovating for the future is the key to Students may collaborate, think critically, communicate, and be creative by evaluating if a present practise, approach, resource, or even industry is sustainable. Future corporate, political, and cultural leaders will be students who take on these problems. Educators and students can find endless resources. For example, Teach For America is a member of the Green Education Foundation.
7) Schooling Every day, it seems like more and more people (though perhaps not enough) are waking up to the fact that our educational systems are inadequate to fully address the learning demands of 21st-century kids. New literacies, skills, economic demands, brain research, technology, outcomes, and techniques are all related. It’s fantastic that more individuals – inside and outside of education – are demanding and implementing change. However, one of the continuing ironies in education is that we rarely ask our key client (students) how they want their education to look, feel, and sound. We have typically undervalued their ability to voice their individual and communal needs. One of the numerous benefits of project-based learning is that we consult and consider the learner. It allows students to have input on everything from the end output to the focus area within a topic or challenge, and even who they partner with from classmates to professionals. This decision not only encourages participation and ownership of learning, but also allows students to develop all of the qualities we seek in our ideal graduates. As one might expect, no formal curriculum is being established to help teachers guide students through education reform. This may need to be organic, class by class, school by school. It can start with a teacher asking pupils what they want from school. Rethinking Learning and reDesign by Barbara Bray and The Buck Institute for Education are also good places to start.
This is not an exhaustive list. But these seven broad subjects present hundreds of pertinent difficulties for our students to handle. If they do, they will not only be better prepared for their futures, but also for ours.