This will be my last year teaching at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. It has been quite the ride. I have learned so much. I have consciously tried to improve 1% everyday. That compounds to 3800% per year. So, I am now 15, 200% better from when I began four years ago.
I believe in doing the hard things in school. Not handing out worksheets. No. Creating things from scratch. Getting kids to work in a team and truly collaborate. These are much harder things, and in my opinion, more valuable.
As much as possible, I have tried to be a producer to the high school kids I work with. It is such a challenge. Most students have had no practice working in teams to create something from nothing and consequently, suck at it. Sometimes a team of kids comes together that has a good leader and positive interpersonal chemistry. It is a pleasure to be a producer in this environment. This year, I had such a team to create a short film.
It was still difficult. There were still frustrations, doubt, and obstacles. But they pushed through. The leader wrote an original screen play, gathered a crew, and simultaneously directed and acted in it. He kept the team of five working together. As producer, I was there to enforce work, times, schedules, and deadlines. This is the hard work: Going through five months of effort to make something from nothing where everyone had to come together to make it happen in every stage of the production process.
Learn by doing. Makers are gonna make. Highly functional teams are rare and will always beat teams who are not working together even though they may be better funded or have greater market and technological advantages. It requires practice. This practice typically does not happen inside of high school. But this is exactly the kind of experience that every organization needs on Earth.
Here is what a great team of kids can produce (We took bronze at the International Hollywood Film Festival):
I absolutely love making new work. I find the process exhilarating.
I also had the good fortune to have worked with expert improviser and actor, Dave Morris. We got a $10,000 grant to teach theater skills and construct a show. Building shows makes me happy. At times, it can be frustrating and exasperating, but in the end, so rich and rewarding.
The show, titled: “Pandora”, was all original (minus a couple of cover songs). The kids wrote it from scratch. It was hilarious, pithy, and touching. There are some scenes that made me bust out laughing ever single time I saw them.
I will state it again: I believe that collaboration is the most important thing to learn in high school. Building an end product that must be shipped is such a valuable learning experience for teenagers. There is a good amount of pressure to perform. Some step down, while others step up. Most step up. I find it very fulfilling to see a student go beyond their comfort zone and push themselves to internally grow — especially when this contributes to an end result that is greater than any of them could have done by themselves. To see kids come together, help each other, learn, and develop art that moves minds and stirs emotions, well, how can that not be enjoyable?
Here is a little documentary on the making of “Pandora” that one of my talented student’s made:
I have also been fortunate to have a student who is a dedicated national paddling champion; his club is only a 15 minute walk from the school. Every Thursday morning, I got to take a group of kids paddling outrigger canoes on the Gorge in Victoria, BC. If you have never been to Victoria, I have to tell you, it is the most beautiful city on Earth. The air is delicious…we are living in a rain forest.
Intense learning experiences are my favorite; pushing into an area where all senses are heightened, learning by doing.
I was able to provide those opportunities. For example, paddling out into a Strait can be a little treacherous; there are a host of factors to deal with, like wind and waves. It is possible to flip and they have to know what to do — especially in a 6 person canoe that weighs 600 pounds — 900 pounds when it gets flipped over and filled with water.
So, we practiced a huli (flip the boat and get back in). It was an intense learning experience for the kids:
“We lean right, away from alma, and boom, in a flash, we are all in cold ocean water. In seconds, everyone’s adrenaline is racing. Michael, one of our coaches, immediately barks orders. Count off…1…2…3…4…5…6…One kid starts panicking. I honestly thought that we were going to have to swim him back to the docks. We finally calmed him down and after a few attempts, flipped the boat back over. One person in at a time, start bailing! 20 scoops = 1 more person in the boat. I am the last one in and my teeth are chattering.”
The body and brain go into survival mode. It is good to see. Again, I want to push students comfort zones to work as a team in an intense situation because it feels so great when done; there is a strong sense of accomplishment.
As an entrepreneur, I love working with talented engineers. Because my mind does not work in that way, I absolutely love what they can do. Here is a sign that a student engineer and I built (it is the school logo designed by another student):
I believe that students should be making things. Making a product is a valuable life experience. This sign is actually the culmination of two years of work. It started off as a massive light installation that we pitched to VIATEC. It then got turned into something for the airport. I had everyone lined up to help – an engineer who built his own LED product, Limbic Media, Ladies Learning Code, and VIATEC to construct it. For me, it is so much fun to do as a teacher/entrepreneur. Alas, it didn’t come together, so it then turned into a project to build this crazy light pyramid made out of angle iron. I can’t even remember how many LEDs a side there were. It required too much power. We did get it working – kind of. There were just too many soldering connections and things went wrong. It has now arrived as this sign. I am thrilled at the product we salvaged from the process.
The lessons that I have learned and the experience that I have gained operating in this unique education environment has led me to write a book (see the next post for my opening pages). I am aiming for it to be finished by April next year and I will expand on many of the lessons that I have learned these last four years. Coming soon…