What if we...asked students to invent creative solutions to problems in their communities and then gave them the encouragement, resources, and motivation to go do it? What if we trusted them enough to take charge of their own education? What if we exposed them to all of the awesome projects other people are doing and then asked them to be awesome in the pursuit of bettering their own communities?
I am a high school English teacher on a mission. I want to redesign our students' senior thesis project into an engaging authentic task that asks them to change the world. Instead of asking students to research a topic and write the longest paper they can about it, I want to ask students to identify something in the world that they think needs to change and then to think creatively about how to change it. Piggy backing on the "What if we..." project (www.whatifwe.us), I want to ask my students to come up with their own "What if we..." for a problem they see happening in their community. I want them to research the problem and ways other people have tried to solve it. Then I want them to imagine a personal action they could take to change the course of this problem. Then I want them to do it. I want them to go out in the world and take some action and see what happens. This action could be public art that is meant to evoke thought or conversation. It could be connecting people in need to resources. It could be teaching people in their community something they feel they are an expert at. It could be just about anything the student can imagine and can implement on an individual level. It must impact as many people as possible and it must be supported by their hypothesis about how this action will alter the path of the problem they have chosen to work with. Throughout it all they will interview people and take pictures and collect information about what kind of an impact their idea had. Ultimately they will reflect on why their project was or was not effective and how this project impacted themselves as well as their community. We will end the year with a celebration/presentation of all of their work and the ways that they changed the world and ultimately themselves. This is the kind of creative and authentic learning that I believe will help my students develop into compassionate, thoughtful, engaged citizens capable of problem solving and creative thinking that will benefit us all.
Funded by Washington, DC (December 2011)