Project Zero in action: an educational utopia, of sorts

I spent a couple of days with my study-group leader from Project Zero. I went with her Alma College students up north. There we visited Long Lake School in Traverse City Schools (of northern Michigan), a kind of educational utopia. This is a school that applied for and received a grant for educational transformation through the Department of Education Arts Education Model Dissemination.

Students at this school use "thinking routines;" they use them often, and well, and at all ages. When you enter a class, the kids will be engaged over some content area study through use of thinking-skills exercises. "I See, I think, I wonder" is one good example. Given a cultural artifact, a piece of art, the students proceed through stages of reflection to think about something deeply. "I see....": that's pure observation, clear and simple. Make or say a list of phrases. "I think...": that's when you connect previous knowledge with current knowledge; it's intellectual; you make or say a list of phrases. "I wonder...": that's the push forward, into the unknown. It's the launching point, the startup for investigation. As I write this I think it all sounds so simple. Maybe that's the beauty in the whole thing.

Students are actively making sense out of the world around them. They are both studious and playful. We got to see the students go through individual reflection, small group reflection, and whole group sharing and discovery.

By all appearances, the students absolutely love their thinking-skills program. Their education is in large measure composed of satisfaction and joy. Students are so involved in their work that issues of management rarely appear, and when they do, get worked out easily.

The most notable thing of all to me was how well the students listened to each other. It's nothing like the typical way that education goes, with the kids raising their hands to be called upon by the teacher for the purpose of supplying an answer that teacher wants, nothing at all. It's nothing like the common picture of kids raising their hands to be called on--and if not called on, just waiting, waiting, waiting, noisily or impatiently, basically "checked-out" until it's their turn. It's the opposite at Long Lake School. A kid gets called on, then everybody listens. Students listen and help sort through that person's reasoning; they respond to that student with "clarifying questions", requests for elaboration, further questions to explore. They applaud and support each other's work.

I want to write more about this unique school and the power it contains for strengthening what's going on in education. It was absolutely astonishing to visit it now, after the students in 6th grade have been in a "thinking-skills-immersed" program for five years. The students are powerhouses. They're motivated, engaged, considerate, reflective, creative.

A question I walk away with is how does technology go with the Harvard Project Zero initiative. I don't see evidence that it's a significant part of the picture. I'm imagining the design of a hybrid that combines Web 2.0 with the "Teaching for Understanding" programs, or "Artful Thinking" programs. Whooooo....this is going to be fun.

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