What do we know about construction? There’s a lot of it going on at TLS right now, and it’s not just outside. In sixth grade, constructing projects based upon freeform research on topics of personal interest builds practical learning skills and provides evidence that finding a passion is a fluid endeavor. OAK projects shows kids that building a passion might just be better than following one.

In a recent Stanford study, scholars suggest DEVELOPING one’s passion is more effective long-term than “following” one and “the belief that interests arrive fully formed and must simply be “found” can lead people to limit their pursuit of new fields and give up when they encounter challenges” (Stanford News, June 2018). Taking a page from this study, building passions out of OAK is practical and effective.

OPEN ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE (OAK) 

Similar to a “Passion Project” or “Genius Hour,” OAK projects are The Lexington School’s way for students to pursue topics of individual interest, research the matter, become an “expert,” build a culminating product, and present their new knowledge to their peers and younger friends. OAK projects are creative extras, side projects that teach even more than what the end product suggests.

In addition to the rigor of 6th grade academics, students spend one hour each week during IMAGINE period to research and build their OAK projects. For most, an hour each week isn’t enough time to dive deeply into their evolving passion, so just like real life, pursuit of new knowledge requires time “off the clock” too.

IT STARTS WITH A PLAN

For my OAK Project,
• I want to master…
• I want to design…
• I want to learn to…
• I want to solve…
• I want to answer…
• I want to create…

  1. Three reasons I am interested in and excited about this skill/activity/topic are:
  2. Three fascinating facts about this skill/activity/topic are:
  3. Three questions I want to answer:
  4. Three people or resources that will be important to my learning are:
  5. I envision my final presentation and product to include:

A PROJECT CHECKLIST that includes a project planner, progress/feedback meetings with an advisor, mid-project self-assessments, a gallery walk and presentation, and a final, external and self-evaluation, structures accountability for independent learning, and by the end of the semester, you will not believe the outcome.

This year’s OAK projects are fascinating, well-researched, and wide-ranging: Coding, crochet, piano, bath balm making, architecture, 3D printing for advanced cruise ship design, engineering, modern Spiderman, physics, basketball, paint mixing, stop-motion animation, podcasting, and more. Wait there’s more: Creativity, critical thinking, time management, curiosity, goal-setting, and personal initiative…

Becky Johnson, 6th grade teacher and Director of Professional Development at The Lexington School, brought OAK projects to her sixth grade team as “a dedicated time for student choice investigations- their days are so structured and packed – being able to have a set aside time where they can invest their limited time and brainpower into a topic they are interested in is valuable just for the sake of how fun it is to learn something new in a self-directed way.”

“The best change from last year is that the students presented the OAK projects in gallery format and invited 2nd grade buddies and 5th graders to peruse the galleries. Last year we just had the students present individually to the class, but it did not have as authentic of an audience that way. Feedback was great:”

“Thank you 6th grade team and students for inviting us to see your OAK projects. My mind is blown by the creativity and effort that went into each project. I came downstairs still in awe. Kuddos.” – Alex Parrish

“How awesome it was to see our 6th grade buddies present their projects this morning! Excellent job by all!” – Vickie Russo

“OAK captures what we are really after – a self-directed learning experience unbound by traditional grading, expectations, or topics.” The students love it, and the skills they learn are endless. The passions they grow may just be as strong as OAK.

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