In the last week, I been able to visit a few schools and have read a few articles highlighting projects that attempted to raise awareness about a particular social justice issue. While the teachers behind these projects designed them with good intentions, I offer that simply raising awareness isn’t enough. As you review projects of the same nature ask yourself a few good questions:
1) Who chose the topic?
If the topic was simply a teacher passion or a content required focus, learners may have completed the project just for the sake of earning a grade. If the learners in the project were able to choose their own topic, I feel slightly better about the project as a whole, but it still doesn’t go far enough. Yes, the learners may be focusing on becoming more socially aware and passionate about change. However, the approach to the project makes all the difference in the world.
2) Did the project merely report the statistics?
Change doesn’t occur with simple awareness. Impassioned learners don’t grow out of reported statistics. Giving learners the power to potentially effect change shifts the meaning and the outcome of the project. Rather than simply asking to raise awareness, ask learners to propose solutions. A call to action is necessary.
3) Is this just a research paper in disguise?
The creation of a movie, PSA, or poster campaign is all low level Bloom’s work. Using the statistics and case studies as the justification as to why the action should be taken, leads learners through the highest levels of Bloom’s. It doesn’t matter how pretty, fancy, or technically advanced a product is, if it simply produces information that was Googled, it hasn’t done anything to promote critical thinking in our students.
4) How deep did the inquiry go?
If your learners aren’t continually asking new questions about the project, inquiry hasn’t happened. Learners need to be asking more than who, what, when, where, and why. They need to be asking how. How can this problem be stopped? How will the world look in 10 years if it isn’t stopped? How will we get the funding to stop this problem based on my solution? How can I gain enough support for my solution? How can my solution be altered in the future to meet the needs of a changing population? — How questions are actionable and aren’t finite.
5) Who is the audience?
If your awareness campaign only targets a group that doesn’t have the power to effect the change you desire, then your project has fallen short. A classroom full of 9th graders really can’t do anything to stop human trafficking. Putting posters up in the school really doesn’t do much to help save an endangered species. Presenting findings on any number of issues at a family night rarely makes an impact. Targeting a specific audience that contains professionals, business leaders, and change agents in the community truly makes all the difference in the world.
If you liked this post, you may be interested in reading my Top 10 Ways to Fake an Authentic Classroom. I’d be interested in hearing how you and your learners are designing authentic learning experiences that go beyond awareness campaigns.