If you’ve followed this blog, or the Learning Futures project, you’ll know that I’m passionate about what I call the four Ps of Engaged Learning. I’d argue that learning only really engages students when it’s either placed, purposeful, pervasive, or passion-led – ideally all four should be present.
Yesterday, in the search for examples of great projects, I travelled up to see the presentations from Cramlington Learning Village’s ‘Challenge Fortnight’.
This is a great event. For two weeks (formerly just one) the whole school ‘suspends’ the timetable, and encourages students to select from a smorgasbord of challenges, presenting their findings, in a single day, to parents, peers and the local community.
I saw great projects: Martin Said, Chris Tennet and Mandy White’s ‘Stones In A Mineshaft’ enabled students to write poems, set to their own music, about people or artefacts that had emotional resonance for them. The students were asked to illustrate their poem through a Banksy-style mural; elsewhere, Darren Mead’s students traced the path of birds who had migrated from Africa to Cramlington, showing great draughtsmanship and research capabilities.
But I have to say my favourite was the ‘Media for Surfers‘ project. This project’s ambitions were ‘to secure the future of surf in the North-East’, through photography, film-making and campaigning. It ticked all the 4 P boxes: Placed on their local beaches (and kick-started by a surfing lesson for all students); Purposeful – the project was essentially a campaign to clean up the immediate coastal water; Pervasive – the students made great use of social media, engaging an audience outside their school . But the kicker for me was the Passion which drove everything. This was obvious from the teachers who led the project. Tom Bing is a surfer and Sally McGee volunteers for the Lifeboat Institute. But, above this, the skill of the teachers (both Tom And Steve Martin are newly-qualified), in setting high expectations from the students was obvious in the drafts they presented.
The students’ message needed to be backed by a thorough understanding of the facts surrounding water pollution, leading to another four Ps, these identifying the deadly result of careless toilet flushes: pee, puke, poo and paper. In explaining their collaboration and products, they were articulate, and determined to continue beyond the Challenge Fortnight. When the students identified their aims for the project, uppermost was a simple, but profound one: ‘to be taken seriously by adults’. This led to a really sophisticated use of language and image in their poster campaign.
Of course, not every project will achieve such impressive results. One project on display had clearly not exercised the same determination to produce work that students could be proud of. It seemed to lack purpose, passion or place. And I’m also not clear why a teacher would think the following poster should be laminated, as it’s clearly a first draft:
However, the overall impact of this festival of locally-grounded projects – where parents become highly engaged in their children’s learning – is that Cramlington’s continuing thirst for innovation is leading them to deeper learning for their students, and stronger connections to their parents and communities. My only question is this: why can’t every week be a challenge week?