Eleventh and twelfth grade students in “Academy X,” a leadership and humanities academy at Sir Francis Drake High School in suburban Marin County, California spent nine weeks researching the school facilities crisis that faces not only their own area but the whole state.
Working in groups, the students researched the facilities problem by meeting with school officials and state policy-makers and visiting schools. Next, groups prepared a variety of tools (web sites, videos, written proposals) to publicize the problem and their proposed solutions. The project concluded with the students arranging a trip to Sacramento (complete with press coverage), where they lobbied legislators to enact their suggestions.
“The essential question for Academy X’s year of learning, was: What do I need to know in order to effect positive change in my community, my school, and myself?” says Bob Lenz, one of a team of social studies, English, and Workplace Learning teachers who led the project, known as Community Action Research Go! (or Cargo). “We wanted students to have a real world context for their study of government, economics, and oral and written communication.”
Some of the project’s other goals for student learning:
- An understanding of the legislative process by trying to access the California State Legislature.
- An application of the economic principles of scarcity, trade-offs, opportunity costs, investment, economic growth and long run vs. short run decisions through the defense of their proposals to the legislature.
- A context for reflection on the power and pitfalls of collaborative problemsolving and community action.
- Persuasive writing and speaking to a real audience about an issue the student finds relevant or meaningful.
- An introduction to the field-study and problem-based learning models students would soon apply during individual internship experiences.
- A meaningful or relevant field trip to the state capitol.
Students were expected to finish their research and “deliverables” at a professional standard, and their products were assessed using rubrics the students devised. The following individual and group tasks were also assessed:
- A speech to inform on a community issue with governmental or economic implications. (Rubric for oral presentation.)
- A brief research analysis of individual research on group topic. (Rubric for an investigative report.)
- A speech to persuade. (Rubric for oral presentation.)
- A journal of activities and reflections as work on the project progressed. (Feddback using rubrics for group skills and for time and task management.)
- A test of mastery of governmental and economic terms and principles. (Conventional grading.)
- A summary of their research. (Exhibition rubric assessing action research, content, defense of argument, and oral presentation skills.)
- The product or arrangements they agreed to make. (Rubrics designed by the students.)
Students spent two 90-minute periods weekly for nine weeks (a total of 14 hours) on the project, as well as out-of-class time as necessary. In the process, Lenz believes, they met both broad and specific standards set by their state and district, having to do with:
- Understanding and application of economic principles, concepts, terms, and reasoning.
- The roles and responsibilities of the three branches of government under the U.S. and state constitutions.
- Effective written and spoken communication to inform and persuade. ?? Reading, viewing, and analysis of material from a variety of disciplines.
- The use of technology to access information.
- Analysis and problemsolving of current issues from historical, political, and economic perspectives.
- Post-secondary and workplace transition skills and knowledge.
- Community, social, civic or cultural participation. In the student’s own words, the criteria for success were considerably more vivid and concrete:
- Did we make it to Sacramento?
- When we were there, did we meet with key decision-makers?
- Did those decision-makers take our research, conclusions, and recommendations seriously?
- Did we know what we were talking about?
- Did the press cover our visit and our recommendations?
- Did we effect positive change?
“This project could be scaled down, using only the Internet and the phone for research, desktop publishing for the report, and a trip to the local government,” Lenz points out. “Or it could be scaled up — perhaps a trip to Washington D.C.” He has compiled the details in a CD-Rom-based portfolio complate with sample student work and rubrics, which he presented to teachers from around the country at “Competencies That Count,” a conference sponsored in March 2000 by the Coalition of Essential Schools and Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based organization focused on community-connected learning. For more information about the project, contact Bob Lenz at firstname.lastname@example.org.