I was very excited when I heard that Angela Calabrese Barton was going to be one of the featured speakers at this year’s colloquy.  I was familiar with some of her work with youth in homeless shelters as well at the Urban Heat Islands project that was conducted as part of the GET City project.  Her talk focused on the Green Roof project that is also part of GET City.  The thing that is striking to me about both the Urban Heat Islands and the Green Roof project is that although they are scientifically based projects they are great examples of interdisciplinary learning.

As I was listening to Dr. Calabrese Barton the Green Roof project that was conducted at the Boys and Girls Club, I was struck by the voice this project gives to the youth she works with.  This is not a symbolic voice, but rather an authentic and powerful voice.  The GET Citians have met with civic leaders and presented their work in classrooms and the community.  Their voices were also incorporated into Dr. Calabrese Barton’s presentation, so that we could hear from them the power of the GET City project.

As part of the new roof for the club, new skylights were going to be included and a decision had to be made about where they were to be installed.  The director of the club asked the GET Citians to help decide where these should be installed.  The youth took on the responsibility, developing a evaluation system for which rooms would be most benefitted from having the skylights and carrying out the investigation to make this determination.  While, this was a productive learning experience for the youth, I think the real power of this experience was that their decision about where to put the skylights was enacted by the adults in charge of the club.

Through my lens as a classroom teacher and now an educator of preservice teachers, my first thought was about how a program like this could be adapted and brought into a formal education setting.  I reflected on projects that I had done with my classes in the past where they were asked to research an issue (usually environmental in nature) and then make “recommendations” about what should be done to address this issue.  Of course, unlike the GET Citians, their recommendations didn’t have any actual power.

However, as I have thought more about how a project like GET City could be adapted for formal classrooms I have decided that it doesn’t need adapting, rather we need to adapt our classrooms.  Shouldn’t schools be places where interdisciplinary learning takes place and students are given a voice to impact their world?  In my view education is about preparing the next generation of citizens who will be able to thoughtfully address the issues they are confronted with and work together to solve them.  This is exactly what these sorts of projects prepare students to do.

This approach to learning is not easily measured through standardized testing, which makes adopting it a challenge in the current climate of accountability in schools.  This issue was alluded to during the discussion about funding these sorts of projects that occurred during lunch with Dr. Calabrese Barton and Dr. Shirley Brice Heath.  They both talked about the challenge of getting projects funded by NSF when the projects don’t include “measurable results” that fit into the narrow definition of measuring that has become prevalent.

It seems to me that it might be possible for science to serve as starting point for these sorts of projects since in some places it still falls outside of the jurisdiction of standardized testing.  Since science teachers don’t have a test hanging over their heads in most grades, they potentially have a little more flexibility in their curriculum.  We should encourage them to leverage this flexibility to incorporate GET City style projects into their classes.

As a final thought, wouldn’t it be an interesting world if teachers were held accountable not for test scores, but for the impact that their students have in their community?