Recently, I attended a teacher PD during which a school director asked teachers to think about their dream project. The leader used the term “Moonshot” to describe this sort of project, showed an inspirational video about dreaming big, and then teachers were given time to lay the preliminary groundwork for their “Moonshot”. No matter who we are and where we come from, it’s always a privilege to be afforded the space to pursue our dreams. Teachers don’t get this kind of space enough. And so all of the teachers at the PD excitedly wrote down notes and brainstormed with each other and set to scratching out initial plans. Some of the ideas I overheard included making international trips, a Virtual Reality project that focused on a course in anthropology, and a project aimed at unpacking the construct of race through the lens of biology. I wanted to attend the school they taught in. I wanted to be their student. But something was also wrong. Because I was scared.
It wasn’t that the dream projects were so far reaching that I doubted my ability to do the work required. It was something else. It was this idea of dreams. Research has taught us that dreams and the mechanisms of dreaming have a deep connection with our memories. And if we are to think of memories as “ the means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to use this information in the present” (Sternberg, 1999) then we understand that our memories and thus our dreams are born from our unique relationship with external and internal forces and how we each experience our unique and nuanced contexts. Thus, I was scared because it seemed that the students’ dreams weren’t taken into consideration in the thinking of these “dream projects.”
This is a particularly acute problem in public schools for many reasons, primarily because the demographics of our student body is not reflected by the demographics of our teacher body. Thus, real moonshots or dream projects can only be had when one is, at the very least, dreaming of and with students first. But it also goes further. A dream project is born from students’ needs and experiences.
A Project Based Classrooms is not a space where teachers begin designing projects without a comprehensive understanding of their students’ academic skills, needs, lived experiences and contexts. In other words, students need to be a part of all stages of project design, from initial brainstorming sessions through conception and exhibition. To do this, teachers must be deeply in touch with their students lived experience and authentic contexts. In addition, a dream project must be anchored in informal and formal student achievement data because a dream project must have real and measurable positive effects on students’ academic skill and development.
As teachers in a Project Based Classroom, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in our dreams for our projects and overlook students’ academic needs. As human beings, it’s so easy to become obsessed with our experiences and personal vision. I suppose this is what I was scared of at the PD. After all, if a teacher in a project based classroom has not used their content and curriculum to design projects that address students’ academic skills and personal development, context and dreams than what does it matter if students have collaborated to build the model of a prototype for a rocket ship that will one day land on Mars?