Bringing PBL and Internship Together

The Capstone Project Internship
Real world work with the guiding principles of STEM applications

Credit: 1.0 credit, STEM, awarded by Stanstead College, Quebec, Canada

Grades: Students entering grade 11 and 12 in the Fall, 2017 (some exceptions made for advanced grade 10)

Dates: June 5 to July 21 (2-3 weeks remote, digital work; 2 weeks of project execution in country; 1 week remote, digital follow-up)

Location: Pleiku, Vietnam (SOS Children’s Village and local businesses)

Overview: The Capstone Project Internship (CPI) is an innovative project-based program that provides students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous scholarly practice of the core academic skills necessary for the successful completion of a real world internship. Built on the foundation of two principles — project-based learning and internship — it is designed to complement and enhance the in-depth, interdisciplinary study provided through research, trial-and-error, and reflective post-project analysis. It cultivates curious, independent, and collaborative scholars and prepares them to make logical, evidence-based decisions, and real-time adaptions: project management. It will also serve as a springboard for college application essay writing, which is an added component and requirement for those entering grade 12.

Essential Tasks: Design, execute, and de-brief programs for local businesses and the Children’s village to maximize resource allocations, maintain sustainability, enhance quality of programs and/or products. Students will begin by analyzing the current needs assessment of the either a local business or the children in the SOS village. Working remotely at their home locations on shared virtual space and within specified budget parameters, students will propose schedules, programs, data-collecting processes, and quality metrics. Upon approval, these programs will go into place upon arrival in Pleiku, Vietnam, where all constituents will meet in person and make final preparations. Plans will be executed on site(s), and upon completion of tasks, post-project analysis will occur with publication and strategies for modifications presented. Students will return to their respective homes and work remotely, and final products will be shared on common platforms and social media sites. College essay writing, if applicable, will occur simultaneously as students will be keeping a detailed journal of their field observations, data collection, and activities.

Methodology: DOASAPP™
Discover, Organize, Analyze, Synthesize, Authenticate, Predict, Publish

Skill Development:

Reading Comprehension and Metacognitive Awareness – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Grasp of increasingly complex nonfiction (informational) texts with added depth of understanding through the acquisition of developmentally appropriate reading strategies.

Level 2 – (10) Develop an understanding of scientific and/or mathematical concepts by accessing information from multiple sources.
Learn to self-teach: access multiple sources to aid oneself in problem solving.
Evaluate the scientific accuracy and significance of information.
Understand the sequence of a text (ability to recall/re-access earlier material).
Redefine key terms and phrases authentically.
Take notes for meaning.
Use notes as a source for review.
Level 3 – (11) Skim a text and/or scholarly writing (e.g. scientific article) with pre-determined purpose for relevant information.
Navigate and decipher between valid and invalid Internet information.
Level 4 – (12) Refine the ability to retrieve relevant information from a problem and filter non-relevant information.
Be able to see the broader historical context of discovery and future implications and applications of different areas of study.
Justify the validity of interpretations of data.
Advanced Identify the strengths/weaknesses of informational texts.
Evaluate the quality of informational sources.

Multimedia, Art, Oral Comprehension – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Evaluation of web-sites; interpretation of non-verbal and oral information
· Savvy choice of reliable and varied references, ability to glean information from charts, graphs, tables, visual and artistic pieces

Level 2 – (10) Develop and use spreadsheets.
Access relevant sources for a project.
Use virtual simulators to develop/demonstrate understanding of material.
Level 3 – (11) Select an appropriate graphical representation for a set of data and use appropriate statistics to communicate information about the data.
Use basic Excel formatting and graphical representation.
Evaluate graphical (visual) information for what it shows and does not show; make extrapolations and mathematical computations.
Draw connections between different mediums of information conveying similar concepts.
Level 4 – (12) Create the guidelines/rubric for an effective multi-media presentation.
Assess the quality of visual presentations based upon content and style.
Interpret graphs with mathematical models.
Advanced Evaluate presentations and reports in terms of content and style; offer specific feedback for enhancement and further study.

Critical Thinking – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Demonstration of increasingly complex critical thinking skills (Bloom’s taxonomy)
· Discernment of relationships between increasingly complex abstract ideas and information, primarily evaluation.

Level 2 – (10) Analyze the findings of a given experiment.
Differentiate between laws, theories, postulates, hypotheses.
Identify patterns in data, what it suggests and does not suggest.
Prove theories/find exceptions to a rule (if any).
Extrapolate charts and graphs.
Make connections between classroom content (theory) and environment (real world).
Understand when an answer/conclusion is reached and why.
Recognize continuity/progression of math and science.
Hypothesize.
Critical thinking–Knowledge, Comprehension, Application–Bloom’s first three levels of higher order thinking.
Level 3 – (11) Analyze the findings of scientific research.
Determine laws and theories from observations and data.
Understanding bias in experiments and samples.
Use, manipulate, and understand how controls work in an experiment.
Understand how variables may affect data.
Evaluate statistical significance.
Infer implications of seemingly disconnected examples to learned concepts.
Level 4 – (12) Bloom’s highest orders of thinking–Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation–students to respond to and generate questions in this realm.
Advanced Create authentic experiments and problems for discovery, predicting outcomes and defending results.
Postulate problems for further study.

Inquiry & Meaning Making – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Ability not only to tackle questions posed by others but also to identify and articulate the questions that require solutions (Bloom’s questions)
· Application of purposeful inquiry to stated problems in order to evaluate a situation and articulate how solutions may be found
-Application of technology to measure, investigate, and calculate.
· Make observations, raise questions, and formulate hypotheses.

Level 2 – (10) Hypothesize and give reasons behind hypothesis.
Predict based upon prior knowledge.
Formulate questions that can be investigated in the lab/understand whether or not questions can be investigated in the lab.
Recreate a previously completed lab exercise.
Make connections between various theories and laws in nature.
Evaluate the accuracy of scientific findings and their limitations.
Recognize sources of error in an experiment/derive ways of decreasing said error.
Verify previous discoveries.
Evaluate and summarize the results of experiments.
Level 3 – (11) Select required materials, equipment, and conditions for conducting an experiment.
Write procedures that are clear and replicable.
Investigate and discern the integrity of others’ experiments.
Critique and question biases of research (e.g., scientist, investigative journalist).
Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.
Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.
Design further experiments based upon data results.
Infer and draw conclusions by statistically manipulating raw data.
Level 4 – (12) Create a lab given only a question and/or concept.
Express the knowns and unknowns when approaching a new problem.
Recognize themes that identify skill sets that may be useful in problems.
Understand and articulate relevancy of problems and analogous situations in which the methods used to solve may apply.
Advanced Evaluate the technology used–its limitations and liabilities–in measurements and investigations; propose alternate uses of technology, research techniques, and problem-solving strategies if need be.

Writing, Speaking and Digital Expression – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Ability to produce fluid, well-organized, and clearly articulated written expression of ideas; facility with technological tools for appropriate and effective communication
· Effective and varied use of sentences, vocabulary, punctuation; structured and logical progression of communication in all forms
Level 3 – (11) Present relationships between and among variables in appropriate forms.
Represent data and relationships between and among variables in charts and graphs.
Use appropriate technology (e.g., graphing software) and other tools.
Level 4 – (12) Work with digital tools used at the university and professional level, recognizing what the strengths and limitations are. (Calculators, Applications, etc.)
Show solutions with clear and well-organized structure.
Advanced Publish scientific and mathematical reports, labs, discoveries, etc..

Character and Citizenship Development – APPLIED MATH & SCIENCE
· Understanding that learning shapes ethical and empathetic traits; ability to work collaboratively with others; intellectual risk-taking; accountability for one’s actions
· Empathy – Compassion – Integrity – Courage – Teamwork – Humility – Intellectual curiosity – Ownership – Responsibility
Level 2 – (10) Work as part of a group (fill a given role).
Own and report errors in an experiment.
Understand the importance of presenting correct information.
Recognize the consequences of error (or hiding error/intentional miscalculations).
Recognize ethics in findings.
Understand the responsibility of human beings in the world (natural environment).
Identify and critique arguments about personal or societal issues based on scientific evidence.
Evaluate scientific explanations in a peer review process or discussion format.
Recognize motivation in science.
Level 3 – (11) Lead a group or groups towards a single goal.
Delegate tasks.
Accept and work effectively in a variety of roles in a group.
Understanding equality of roles in a group (no role is lesser than another — without all working together, the group will fail).
Level 4 – (12) Publish or present ethical positions to the school or general community, either as a group or individually.
Advanced Evaluate the global implications of scientific, mathematical, and technological issues and innovations in terms of ethics and legal statutes in terms of International laws.

Why Doesn’t Every Class Start with Current Events?

6th-Current-Events-Word-cloud.pngI ponder why every teacher in every discipline does not seize on the opportunity to begin each and every class with current events. Regardless of the discipline, news web sites are now designed with tabs that identify geographical regions, areas of interest, such as Finance or Science and Technology, and even categories of leisure, such as Travel. So why take the time to do this?

1) Relevance. Students and constantly asking “what does this have to do with anything? why do I need to know this?” One of my classes is currently studying “Macbeth”, and as we build a psychological profile on him and anticipate future outcomes, Donald Trump dominates the headlines on every news channel. Where do we see similarities between the two? differences? And what about Lady Macbeth–how does she manipulate and control his actions? Do we see anybody like this with Trump?  Associations and connections are made, and students begin to understand the importance of analyzing what leaders say, what others say of them, what they do, and how we might be able to anticipate their actions in the future.
2) Navigating Information. We never open one news source. Typically, we will look at three from different parts of the world. Usually, the three sources are American, British, and Korean or Japanese. Students look at the headlines that often time match, yet the content seems different in its presentation, tone, and analysis. What a better way to teach students about bias, facts, subtleties, and sources than to do informal side-by-side comparison on a daily basis.
3) Innovative Thinking. We recently came across an article on a discovery at Harvard University–solid hydrogen. As we investigated further, we looked at images of the crystal lattice structure, discussed why it would be a more powerful rocket fuel, why it will replace copper as an ideal conductor of electricity. And this is English class! I asked the students if they discussed this in their science class, and unfortunately, they said no. They have been focused on “other” topics. We then pulled out a Periodic Table of Elements to look at other possibilities with gases, and why or why not this can replicated.  Science is now, and science is happening all around us, changing at breakneck speed.  While fundamentals are important, so too is the connection between theory and practice, between the “book” and what is being worked on in laboratories across the world now.
4) Producers vs. Consumers of Information. One of the articles students wished to explore further (students choose as a group where and what we read) was the recent announcement of expanding the Keystone Pipeline and which companies serve to benefit from this. This led us to exploring stock prices, market reactions to news, and specific data headings on a typical Yahoo Finance stock report. Hands went in the air as students sought to define P/E ratios, EPS, Dividend and Yield, etc.. As a statistics or math teacher, these types of discussions, explanations, analysis of data, and then prediction of future trends is exactly the higher order thinking skills our students will need.

Finally, keeping up with current events makes a better teacher.  As professionals, we must be lifelong readers and help our students become engaged citizens of the world.  What is happening now matters.  We fail if we do not foster awareness and thinking about the here and now and how this may forecast events to come.

 

Service Learning–social media and web-based fund raising

As we enter our second year of service learning between The Olympia Schools and Stanstead College, the students at SC have devised two new ways to raise funds. The first is web-based, utilizing the school’s home page:

http://www.stansteadcollege.com/news/campus-life/2016-11-29/students-seek-funds-for-vietnam-school/

After learning about the project, donors can donate on this page: https://stansteadcollege.schoolforms.org/giving

The second, designed by one of the SC students, utilizes Facebook and social media: https://www.gofundme.com/service-learning-project

This is yet another powerful aspect of project design and project management: students learn innovative ways to raise money for their project.

Conference Presentation–Abstract

To those readers in Hanoi, if you have a chance to attend this, please do so.

Home

I will be presenting there. The abstract is as follows:

CREATING INNOVATION IN STUDENTS AND SCHOOLS: BLENDED LEARNING & INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES
CHRISTOPHER M. MCDONALD, The Olympia Schools, Vietnam, chris.mm@theolympiaschools.edu.vn

Integrated studies and blended learning creates innovative teachers and students. Integrated studies happen in three tiers of organizational structure with an essential experiential piece–the capstone of the programming. Not in order of importance, integration can occur a) within an individual classroom, b) between separate classrooms, and c) within columns of grades (primary, secondary, and high school). And it should be followed by extended learning labs where skills are put to use in a real-world, relevant situations followed by the publication of these applications to a wider audience. This requires a rethinking of traditional organizational structures within schools and effective use of faculty planning time. In addition, training must accompany these projects, particularly with faculty who have little exposure with social media and on-line publishing platform. Using a dynamic design methodology, interdisciplinary courses require three steps. Successful courses exist because they are relevant to the real world, are real time, and pertain to student lives and interest. Thus, classes should begin each day with an examination of current events and derive lessons based upon the here and now. This progression can be summarized in three simple essential questions: 1) Where are we now? 2) How did we get here? 3) Where are we going? The current events provide lively discussion for the first five minutes of class. These happenings typically provoke the question “why”. This is the segue needed to probe into the second question–how did we get here? Content should focus on the “why” questions, and after training the students in question formulating techniques, teachers will have plenty of why questions that can be prioritized and can serve as guidance for subsequent lessons. 3-2-1 exit cards and K-W-L charts should be employed as well to track interest and assess learning. The curriculum may also be enriched through blended learning. Besides expanding the breadth of course offerings and e-books through free on-line resources such as EdX, on-line blended learning offers dual diploma possibilities and global projects. Case studies in Vietnam can be provided for further discussion for all aforementioned topics.
Keywords: blended learning, interdisciplinary design, experiential learning, dual diplomas
Paper’s ID: VS3.001121

Thematic Global Progression–Vietnam’s Progressive Education

globalprogression2016-pptx

My goal at The Olympia Schools has been to design a curriculum that begins the student experience with a focus on themselves, their families, their neighborhoods (grade 7 and 8).  As they mature and progress in this understanding, the horizons need to expand, and a school must provide this broader awareness.

Here is an example:  the manifestation of the grade 11 service-learning program last Spring, a year long project with students from Stanstead College, Quebec.  The main technology used to connect students was Edmodo, a free app and posting resource.  The video was created exclusively by the students.

 

 

 

 

 

The Olympia Schools Magazine–Opening Article

Dear Families and Students,

As mentioned at the opening meetings for all students, each year we pick a theme that helps to frame our overall curriculum and extracurricular activities. If you remember two years ago, we challenged students on a very personal level: do your best, do what is right, and care. Last year, we built upon this individual challenge to move students beyond self and to build the capacity to be leaders: global stewardship. Global stewardship can be defined as the commitment to the responsible management of world resources (natural, human, and economic) through informed leadership. As our students assumed leadership roles throughout all aspects of the school—class projects, athletic teams, clubs, musical performances, community service, and service learning activities—2016-17 offered us the opportunity to move this personal and leadership growth to the idea of sustainable development. How can one elicit change in one’s own homes, community, country, and world? How can we try to create the conditions for the planet to continue without destroying the social fabric and environmental conditions of the earth?

Utilizing the framework from UNESCO, http://en.unesco.org/sdgs, it is a natural progression in our yearly themes for students to apply what they have learned over the past two years to these “17 Goals to Transform our World”. Over the past two years, all students have been engaged in activities that resonate within these objectives. Many of our class trips involved spending time with and helping those communities lacking the financial resources for food, education, and basic necessities, such as electricity and clean water. Primary students learned about their own community in the Hanoi and Me program while cleaning up the environment. Our primary and middle school students have been involved in cultural exchanges with students from Korea, New Zealand, and the United States.
Last year, our SGO group engaged in year long service learning project with students from Canada that resulted in building a wall for a rural elementary school in addition to recreational training for children at an orphanage. Our grade nine students made a classroom-to-classroom with students from a Cambodian International school and met together to discuss issues ranging from politics, border misunderstandings, and prejudice. These are just a few examples of our commitment to sustainable development.

This year will be no different; in fact, it will be taking what we have accomplished in the past and enhancing those projects to be greater in depth and breadth while launching new ones. For example, students will be competing by grade level to broaden awareness both in their homes and at school regarding recycling: plastic, metal, paper, and food composting. Recycle bins will populate the school and will be used within the science curriculum to teach students about materials and the process of recycling and its importance. Grade 9 students will be embarking in an interdisciplinary project within their History, Literature, and Geography classes that sends them to various locations throughout Vietnam as they discover Vietnam now, where it has been, and where it may be in the future. Grade 10 students will continue their work with students in Cambodia with a particular focus on climate change and how it affects both countries. SGO will continue stage 2 of the service-learning project with Canada. And our high school chemistry students are working with students in La Porte, Texas, regarding issues of sustainable energy sources and development in the United States and Vietnam. And so much more!

While the world faces many challenges, the Olympia students at all levels are in training to be problem identifiers and problem solvers. It is an exciting year to be a part of this vibrant and global community. I look forward to seeing the results of this “discovery learning” and applaud in advance the efforts of families in their support of our initiatives, the teachers in their willingness to be mentors and learners themselves, and the students who eagerly and enthusiastically engage the encounters ahead of them.

What motivates students?

Students remember teachers–not a curriculum, not a methodology, not a school per se. What they remember most is the teacher who was able to challenge them and the teacher who was able to help them accomplish what they never thought possible–even if this resulted in a bad grade. So how did the teacher do this? Is there a common “secret” that all great teachers possess? There is . . .

Unmotivated students share common attributes. They find little to no success in their schooling, and they feel socially isolated. Face-to-face peer interactions have been replaced largely by social media. And when these students attend school, their isolation gets exacerbated further without peer and technological interactions. Video game makers and athletic coaches are acutely aware of these characteristics. Thus, they have incorporated a “90% feedback loop” of success, and they have made social interactions a staple of their respective programs.

The positive feedback loop depends upon two ingredients: frequent assessment with success and achievable goals. Video game makers allow its participants to succeed and advance levels based upon competency. Level jumps are not easy to achieve, but they are attainable, and players get encouragement, hints, and rewards as they get better and better. Feedback is immediate, and players soon learn how to master a task in order to move towards their respective goals. Coaches do the same as their athletes set individual and team objectives. Coaches critique, praise, and move players along in practices and competitions, which are frequent and focus on skill development.  Players learn from mistakes and build towards winning games they may have lost.  The focus is a 90% success rate with a 10% “dangling fruit” to be attained with further practice.

Social success depends upon group dynamics and the team’s, or classroom’s, culture.  Video games now involve multiple players from across the world.  Players work together at tasks; they communicate regularly as they look to master problems and levels.  While many may think video gamers play in isolation, nothing could be further from the truth:  they develop and interact in a highly social network albeit this be an on-line community.  And coaches dedicate much of their time–regardless of the sport being individual or team–to “team bonding”, where athletes learn to trust each other and work towards a greater cause.  In high school, for example, teams will often have overnight travels even if this is not necessary in order to bring the group together.  Coaches will have team meetings to set objectives and when times are hard, to strategize ways to overcome challenges.  Both the gamers and the athletes become a part of an interdependent community.

So what motivates students in the classroom?  Can we create a classroom culture that mirrors what video game designers and coaches know?  We can, and we should.  If we provide students with opportunities for success, if we provide frequent and positive feedback with attainable goals, if we show them progress, if we create a classroom “team” and engage students in interactive group projects and use social media, if students feel safe and encouraged by their peers–students will be motivated, and students will learn.

 

Why we teaching is a calling, not a job–

As the school year ends and both exhausted teachers and students plan for summer holiday and reflect upon the year, I share with you a note I received from a student yesterday. Sometimes, when we think the days are too long and the pay not enough, a note like this makes it all worthwhile. As you read this, some background on the profile of this student: new to the school this year, quiet and reserved, and what most would consider a “wall flower” in that the student blended in to the class most un-noticeably. I taught her every day for one hour; however, what is most revealing about this note is that Van (my wife) taught her for only three days for one hour while I was in Cambodia. It speaks to how teachers can have an impact, even within a small window of time:

I just want to say that I’d like to thank you for everything you have done this year. It’s been a really new and great experience, being able to learn and study with you. I enjoyed your lessons a lot. Thank you.
It seems like I’m going to move to another school next year, so I’m quite sad that we won’t see each other at school. Still, I won’t forget what you’ve taught me and everything we have been through. Thank you for being such an amazing teacher. Thank you for guiding and helping me throughout this year. Thank you for helping me improve my English. Thank you for teaching such interesting lessons…
And I’d also like to say thank you to your wife, Ms. Vân, too. Even though I didn’t talk to her much, I really enjoyed the lessons which she covered for you when you were in Cambodia. She is such a cheerful and positive person, I really admire that about her. She somehow reminds me that life has both good and bad sides, not just sadness and misery. I’d like to thank her for that. In addition, she’s the first one to ever regard me as ‘beautiful’, and also my name, too. I was really touched when I heard those compliments for the first time in my life. Thank you very much !!
I just hope that you will live a happy life forever and will always have fortunate things coming to you. I also hope that we’ll meet again.
Yours sincerely,

Do This One Thing to Help Kids Develop Grit

Here is the full article written by Silvia Ascarelli for Marketwatch. I applaud her discussing this topic in a business forum. It has applications in all aspects of student and adult development.

Grit, the dictionary says, is defined as having courage and resolve.

Angela Duckworth says it’s doing hard things you care about, or a mix of passion and perseverance.

The University of Pennsylvania psychology professor and author of the recently published book “Grit” has created a five-point scale using responses to 10 statements to determine people’s level of grit.

You claim you don’t have a passion? Sometimes, Duckworth says, it’s hard to spot in yourself what might be obvious to others. In her book, she discusses a technique attributed to Warren Buffett that she says can help set priorities and highlight a passion.

Here’s how it works: Write a list of 25 (!) goals. Decide which are your top five. Then discipline yourself to avoid the remaining 20 because they’re just distracting you from what’s most important. Duckworth tweaked it by lumping together those that serve a common purpose — in her case helping kids achieve and thrive — to help spot a theme.

She spoke with MarketWatch about finding a passion and developing perseverance in both children and adults. And, yes, she gives you permission to quit — just not on something you care about. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: How can an adult who has no passion in or outside of work learn grit?

A: Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski had an experiment at Google where people were randomly assigned to craft their own job. Without changing your job, you can look for ways to make it more interesting and meaningful. What do I find interesting? How can I do more of it in my job? And what things do I find completely tedious and not aligned with my values? Can I get someone else on my team who likes it to do it?

It sounds a little naive and pie in the sky. But weeks later, people were more satisfied in their jobs through this tiny intervention and their managers said they performed better.

Q: What’s your advice for developing grit in children?

A: Kids need choice. There’s this really awesome theory of human motivation — that human beings all want three things. One is to be competent, one is to belong, and one is be free, as in to have choice, to not be told what to do but to choose what to do. Kids will never fully develop a passion for something unless at some point and in some way they feel they have chosen what they’re doing as opposed to having it chosen for them.

For my own kids, I gave them choice as soon as they were in kindergarten. They could choose something that was hard, in that it needed to be practiced, so they could learn to practice, practice. It wasn’t an infinite list. I did impose a discipline, which is to say you don’t get to quit in the middle. I did make them finish the semester.

Q: How did you come up with that?

A: I knew that my kids needed choice and autonomy. But I also knew that children who are 5 years old are not going to finish hard things or submit themselves to a hard thing or any practice. Children are not born knowing how to deal with frustration.

Q: What do you think of that Princeton professor’s CV of failure?

A: I thought it was so awesome. What do we do when we show each other not only our resume, but the photos we post on Facebook? We show people our polished, best self. It’s just the highlight roll. What I loved about that resume is that it gives the whole story. Some of the things we do are great, but they often have these iterations that are not great. We screw up sometimes. We get rejected.

Q: How can companies hire for grit?

A: One thing is look for evidence that someone has been persevering and is passionate about something. Maybe it’s not what you’re hiring them for, especially if it’s a 22-year-old. I know a lot of executives, very successful ones, who look for evidence of grit through being a varsity athlete. You can make an educated guess that the person knows how to practice, know how to lose the game and come back for the next one, that they know how to sustain interest in something for years, they might have a sense of purpose broader than themselves. It’s not just sports; it can be other things. If you looked at my college resume, there is no sports, but I had a lot of continuity and accomplishment in community service.

Q: The hardest part may be learning to pick yourself back up.

A: It’s hard, don’t you think? There’s something about taking path of least resistance that makes a lot of sense. But at the same time we have to figure out which things in life are worth struggling through.There is this kind of discomfort you have to have to get better at things, and that’s part of grit. If you’re never able to tolerate a little bit of pain and discomfort, you’ll never get better.

Q: Why is this a science? It sounds like common sense.

A: If it were easy to be gritty and we didn’t need anyone’s help, that would be great. But I still find how to be gritty a question that I can’t even fully answer myself and I’ve been studying it for years and years and been trying to do it personally for more years than I’ve been studying it.

Building Bridges Project: Cambodian and Vietnamese students

Last week, a group of 9th grade students from Hanoi, Vietnam, met up with a group of 9th and 10th grade students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Over a two day period, they worked together in groups to research and present about current issues between the countries, to offer solutions, and to form action plans. In addition, they socialized through shopping, dining, bowling, and swimming as ways to get to know each other. So what was the purpose here? What did we accomplish? How can we measure growth?

Let’s back up to establish the framework. For the students in Hanoi, my students, we studied Cambodia in the first term. Thus, this was an actualization or bringing to life historical texts to the modern day in a tangible, palpable way. In addition, we studied the Vietnam-American conflict as well as the border disputes and invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam. We needed to move the time frame to the present and shift thoughts towards the future and creative solutions. Thus, before we even boarded the plane for Saigon, students revisited our work in the first term, and they conducted new research about the two countries, from immigration issues, border disputes, and prejudice to modern economic and geopolitical challenges. Using Google classroom, students posted ideas and thoughts about the project in advance of our arrival.

Many of these students have never traveled outside of Hanoi; thus, this also served as a learning opportunity regarding personal finance and budgeting, working and moving as a group from buses, taxis, and airplanes to rally points. setting alarms, and meeting at specified times and places. Students kept track of passports, visas, currency, and baggage limits. So the journey served a dual purpose of educating students in “soft skills” required in travel. And for some, based upon their final blogs about the entire experience, this was some of the most poignant learning and growth.

I can continue here about all the higher order academic learning exhibited by both groups of students, for the Vietnamese students made an additional stop along the way at the Cu Chi tunnels, a historical battlefield preserved to show the sacrifices made during the American war. But as educators, you know all of this. Suffice it to say, the expressions on their faces, their attentiveness, and comments like “I never knew this–I never would have made it” demonstrated the power of a site visit versus a textbook. As we made our way into Cambodia and into our makeshift model UN workshop, the idealism and desire to make change and make the worlds of Vietnam and Cambodia better places filled the room. Idea after idea about “how to fix the problem” and prepare a peaceful future for all spilled over from the afternoon into the early evening hours. As an educator of many years, this was my eureka moment! Debriefing on the way home, students were already planning the next steps: how can we put our ideas into action plans? How can we raise funds to include all who want to help? Ah, sustained project management that will evolve into service learning!

The next step will be for students to collaborate on-line and propose an action plan, and then through student “backwards design”, the stages of preparation and execution will begin. Phase 2 of this project will be launched during the next academic year during term 2 or 3. “Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situations of experience its own full and unique meaning” (John Dewey).