high school twelfth grade IB English class was reading The Grapes of Wrath. Groups of students were assigned the task of creating a product that would help the class further understand the time period in which the book takes place. My group chose to create a photo essay using iconic, depression-era, black-and-white photos.
This was back in the day when the most we were taught to do on a computer (at least at our high school) was to program a turtle to move around the screen. So, we headed for the library and checked out several coffee-table books containing photos from the depression and got to work selecting those that we felt had the greatest impact. Then, we spent a long afternoon at the home of one of my group members using a tripod-mounted video camera to shoot a few seconds of video of each image. Imagine: find the next image, lay it down flat, zoom in the camera, record for about five seconds, and then repeat. Over and over for several hours. It was a laborious process, but there was joy and camaraderie in the collaborative effort. (Plus, I vividly recall the friend who was hosting our group making me a tape of U2's newly released Achtung Baby with some B-sides and rarities while we worked. I still have that tape, but no tape player...)
To present the project in class, we played the video and, since we didn't have the capabilities to overdub the video with music, we played a CD of some melancholy bluegrass/folk music. I can still recall sitting in class watching the video, feeling proud of the product, proud of our accomplishment, and emotional as it sank in what life was really like during the depression.
So, why the trip down memory lane? Yesterday morning, Alfie Kohn tweeted a link to a piece that he had written five years ago entitled, Feel-Bad Education: The Cult of Rigor and the Loss of Joy. As I was home sick in bed, I had the time to read it and found it entered into my thoughts throughout the day. Then, (and I love it when this happens) later in the day when I opened Google Reader I found a post by Dean Shareski with his reflections on the same article that he had seen on Twitter.
Rather than share additional comments when I feel some great points have been made, I'd like to raise a few questions. When I completed the photo essay group project, I felt a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and yes, joy. Today, given the advances in technology, my fourth graders could create a more professional looking presentation with the same content in a fraction of the time. But would they feel the same sense of accomplishment? Can we ensure that our students will feel a sense of accomplishment--and joy--when they complete a project, with technology or without? Is it all about making the project authentic and relevant? Is that enough?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Image: Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange from the Wikipedia Commons