During our recent trip to Boston, we had the pleasure of visiting the Community Charter School of Cambridge as guest speakers. At the invitation of a friend and colleague, this visit was both a chance for us to speak to students about our projects related to food and economics, and for us to observe a school that is far different from the ones we teach in.
We spoke to three different classes of ninth grade humanities students, and when we were finished, their questions, and overall inquisitive natures, forced us to reflect on how things have been going, and how our experiments continue to shape our daily lives. These students also knew about the power of this type of experimentation and reflection first hand, as they had recently finished projects of their own.
Over the summer, I had the privilege of being a fellow at the Ahimsa Center for Nonviolence at Cal Poly Pomona, and during my time there I spent two weeks learning about the lives of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. As a requirement for the fellowship, participants needed to create two lessons for classroom use that would help our students better understand these men, and about some of the concepts related to their lives.
For those who have studied Gandhi, it is clear that he saw much of his life as an experiment. In fact, his autobiography is titled, “My Experiments with Truth” and so I decided that one of my lessons would ask students to do the same thing. They would have to change one thing about their lives for the period of one month in order to learn more about the subject, the world they live in, and ultimately about themselves. I named the project “Life Lab”. While I played around with the idea, a new friend of mine from the institute liked it so much that he decided that he would do something similar with his students in the fall.
Which is what brought us to CCSC. My colleague, Henry, had his students do a “sacrifice” project in connection with their humanities content. In fact, his students completed their projects before my students even began theirs. Like us, students had to do without something, and blog about their experiences. After we were done speaking, the students reported to us that throughout their projects they found that their grades went up, the number of detentions went down, and for some of them it was their favorite assignment to date.
The fact that the concept of our One Dollar Diet Project could be elevated to a class assignment where students choose their own topic and find meaning through experimenting with their lives, is both a powerful testament to trying on new ways of living, and humbling for us as teachers. If only more schools like CCSC had teachers like Henry who found engaging and unpredictable ways for students to learn, we might just unleash the genius that resides in each student who would otherwise be counting down the minutes on the clock.
ps. In the future, the LifeLab assignment handouts and description will be posted on our site…so, stay tuned!