From an article by LA School Report
The California Innocence Project is a non-profit based in San Diego, USA. It reviews pleas from prisoners who maintain that they’re innocent. It has freed many innocent people from prison, trained hundreds of outstanding law students who have gone on to become excellent attorneys, and changed multiple California laws to improve the justice system.
In 2013, attorneys at the California Innocence Project, weighed down by a backlog of casework, turned for help to an unusual group: humanities students at High Tech High Chula Vista, a nearby senior school.
The students, all juniors, trained on a past case handled by the nonprofit. Then, in teams of three or four, the students reviewed prisoners’ files and ultimately presented them to Innocence Project attorneys, with a recommendation to either champion a prisoner’s case or take a pass.
The project lives on with a new group of students each year, buoyed by an education philosophy that says students learn best with real work that resembles what they will likely encounter outside of school. In recent years, the idea has quietly gained ground as more schools try project-based learning and subscribe to a philosophy known as “deeper learning.”
Harvard School of Education professor emeritus David Perkins, in his book, Making Learning Whole, sees it as an alternative to schools’ traditional approach, which often presents students with atomized, decontextualized pieces of a subject. He conceived of the idea after thinking about the most meaningful experiences he had in high school, which were mostly “outside of the conventional curriculum”: drama, music, science fairs and the like. These and other large-scale endeavours, he said, “seemed more meaningful and I reached out for opportunities.”
The idea goes something like this: Let students do something big and useful, from start to finish — perhaps a simplified version, but keep it intact. Give them extra help and lower stakes and they’ll work harder, learn more and come up with creative applications and solutions that adults couldn’t imagine. This approach has quietly thrived for generations in another context: afterschool activities, from team sports to debate club, drama productions, etc. For example, when students go out for the football team, they go out each time and play the entire game - not learn just about heading a ball. These experiences are also usually built around a performance of some sort, with a natural structure, deadline and audience.
If that’s the kind of method we use when we really want someone to learn something, why don’t we use those methods the rest of the time, for the rest of the students?
For example, in science, instead of “imbibing scientific knowledge that was discovered long ago by famous scientists,” students learned about the scientific method and designed rudimentary experiments. For example, "Does studying while listening to music through earbuds produced better or worse results?". In the process, students learned how to develop a hypothesis, gather data, review the literature and write up their results. By 16/17, they were doing more advanced work, including partnering with nearby labs. They got excited about and familiar with experimentation.
The goal of the Innocence Project work isn’t necessarily to make students into lawyers. It’s to give them the sense that there’s some professional domain that has rules and rhythms to it, as well as a base of knowledge. It has to be resonant enough with the real world that it compels them to feel like it’s worth engaging with. Students who reviewed prisoners’ cases talked about feeling like they had people’s lives in their hands and that is not a feeling they’d ever had in school before, that something they were doing had real consequences for people beyond themselves.
Rebecca Jimenez, who has graduated from High Tech High Chula Vista, said the Innocence Project gave her a sense of working on an important cause. The more research she did on each prisoner’s plea, the more engrossed she became. She wanted to keep reading and understand the person’s story. Eventually, she and her classmates would research a case that resulted in a judge throwing out a 20-year-old murder conviction and handing down new charges against the suspect’s nephew.
Important aspects of deeper learning are interacting with professionals in the real world. “If you do an architecture project and you have real architects examining your work, that’s project-based learning. But it’s really powerful project-based learning because you’re not only showing students something about architecture. It gives them a conception: ‘I could be an architect.’”
There are skeptics who worry that this approach confuses novices with experts. In order to learn most games, you have to learn the bits and pieces that go into knowing the whole game. Students will typically require “a tremendous amount of background knowledge” before they can execute a respectable project.
Deeper learning actually demands more of teachers, implicitly asking them to not just be familiar with a subject but to remain, in a sense, practitioners.
Read the full article here.
Just a thought - how does this apply to youthwork?
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