Humans are social animals and as such we seek community. We yearn for communication and understanding. We want to be seen and most definitely heard. There are all kinds of communities to which I have belonged. I have been part of a community of quilters, dancers, painters, teachers, cooks, readers, martial artists, and writers. As part of those communities, I was able to build strong bonds with others who shared similar interests and passions. These alliances deepened my understanding and helped me express my ideas and support my fellow members. I experienced valuable interactions and connections. I learned and thrived by being part of all these communities.
As a teacher, I’m a natural collaborator. I enjoy standing back and observing students working in small affinity groups on various projects. Engagement is the key to empowerment, and I’ve witnessed formerly detached children flourish. In these types of circumstances, children begin to recognize what interests them and learn how to make important contributions to their groups and to their common projects.
Recently I watched the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed created by Ted Dintersmith, a professor of engineering and the author of Most Likely to Succeed and What Schools Could Be. The movie chronicles students from High Tech High in San Diego California, which is a project-based high school. Project-based learning is a method of teaching where students work on a project over a period of time that entails solving real-word problems or answers a complex question. Students work collaboratively, building skills and knowledge, and ultimately showcasing their project or presentation to a target audience. The movie follows the students through their freshman year. We watch as students gain more and more confidence and knowledge. They support each other and develop leadership skills. The year culminates with a school exhibit where students showcase their work be it art, theater, or engineering. We revel in their successes, but we also get a glimpse of failure. One student fails to finish his engineering project on time. However, instead of wallowing in despair, his peers, teachers and family rally around him. He is able to reflect on the reasons he was unable to make the deadline. Clearly this student had a keen innovative mind. His teachers knew that proper reflection and determination would lead to eventual success. And they were right. The student worked through the summer and was ultimately successful. His project was very intricate and displayed a high level of thought and expertise. By failing, he was able to fail forward and create a complex piece that reflected his vision.
After watching this film, I saw that there was another documentary with the same title – Most Likely to Succeed directed by Pamela Littky. This documentary followed four high school seniors who have been voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” The film follows these young adults over a ten-year period following their dreams of college and desires for career success and happiness. The teenagers come from very different backgrounds and the film accurately portrays the trials and tribulations that arise given gender, race, and socio-economic status. It is an incredibly powerful film, and I find myself wondering what has happened to those adults. Viewers cannot help but create a strong connection with the characters, and one has to keep reminding oneself that these are real teenagers, with real problems, and real dreams. It is with community and connection that they are able to successfully navigate their lives and set a stable course.
I have the honor of supervising my school’s make space called the Wonder Lab. It is a multi-age community of elementary school girls. They come voluntarily and work on projects of their choosing. So often they tell me how important the lab is to them. So often they beg to stay the whole afternoon. It is so rewarding to see them take risks and work together; share ideas and challenge each other. As we return to school this fall, I wonder how I can offer this space to them. How can we still be a community of movers and makers? I’m sketching out all types of plans because I know how essential this work is to their development. I know it’s not just kids playing with duct tape and cardboard. I know I have inventors, engineers, astronauts, entrepreneurs, artist, actors, musicians in front of me. I know it is imperative to provide them space and foster community.
Most Likely to Create
Little girls gather
Forfeiting their recess
To spend time in the Wonder Lab,
A spacious room
Filled with light and
All manner of treasures:
Cartons, boxes, tubes,
String, nails, hammers,
Paints, tape, paper,
Wires, beads, gears…
What do you wonder?
What can you create?
Away they go –
The younger ones bound off
And start right away,
The older ones hang back a bit,
Talk together, write down plans.
The young ones have already
Started building with tubes
Taller than themselves.
And decide to begin
The older ones look on
Soon there is a busy hum,
A flow of energy,
We forget the time.
Now older ones praise younger ones,
And younger ones help older ones,
And the quiet girl in the corner
Who builds by herself
And is soon imitated.
They borrow, bend, cut, and paste,
They sketch, paint, and measure,
They lend a hand; they exchange ideas,
They construct a community of makers.