I just had a great experience participating in NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) in Atlanta, Georgia, from my desk here in Ankara.
Around the same time I wrote a post about project-based learning I got in touch (via Ewan) with Jane Krauss, who has just written a book with Suzie Boss titled Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-world Projects in the Digital Age. Jane and Suzie also write a blog on the same theme and created a Flickr group to collect photos of school projects around the world. Yesterday in Atlanta Jane and Suzie gave a presentation on project-based learning. They surprised me by inviting me to join in the presentation via Skype, along with Linda Hartley in the UK. It was a little strange talking to a room full of people I couldn't see, and because of the headphones I had some trouble hearing my own voice as well, but still it was very cool and fun. Linda created a wiki to write a summary of the presentation.
After my little piece during the session, I started wondering (since I couldn't see faces) if maybe I miscommunicated one of my points, so I'm offering a clarification here by way of a short case study:
Our school is in the vicinity of one of the last remaining habitats of a critically endangered wildflower that in Turkish is called yanar döner (Centaurea tchihatcheffi). Teachers and students had been thinking about how the school could get involved in this problem, but a lot of the thinking was limited to what students could do inside the school building, so most of the suggestions were for creating a website, slogans, a poster contest in the school, and other media projects targeting the school community.
I conducted a simple problem analysis exercise with the students and one of our biology teachers, where we stated the problem (threat of extinction), and then ask why (loss of habitat). You ask why again (urban sprawl, intensive agriculture), and keep asking why until you get the big picture that shows how this problem relates to a larger system. As we looked at the bigger picture, we saw that a media campaign in the school community would not touch people who were close enough to the problem to make much of a change. But we did realize that we could take a different and more effective approach by collecting seeds in the wild and propagating them on our campus. The creative juices started flowing and we saw the potential for producing enough seeds to share with other schools in the area, and even for establishing a low-tech seed bank to help protect other endangered wildflowers in our province.
Although some of our students might have felt content with a nice website and a contest, bringing in a learning tool from "the real world" helped us find a solution that could have a genuine and sustainable impact.