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Visit to a Synergy 8 Class at Westminster

September 20, 2011

It has taken me too long to arrange a visit to observe the Synergy 8 class at Westminster.  Synergy 8 is in its second year as a semester course for 8th grade students.  It is designed to give them a learning experience built around project-based learning.  Check out blog posts by Bo Adams (click here) for more information about Synergy.  Bo describes the course in this way:

Synergy 8 is an interdisciplinary, non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course for 8th graders at The Westminster Schools.

I was able to see them process some work they were doing on their KP challenge project.  The KP (kitchen patrol) challenge project is an extension of work that last year’s Synergy 8 class did when they tried to tackle the challenging problem of how to respond thoughtfully to the mess created in the lunchroom.  It was interesting to watch the students move effortlessly through the path that Bo and Jill (Jill Gough is the co-teacher) have created in the early stages of their work this year.

Synergy 8 ClassThe class has about 22 students with two teachers.  They utilize the 1:1 Mac laptop program that school has recently adopted.  As you can see from the above picture, students sit at circular tables which promotes student-student dialogue and group collaboration.  Jill and Bo facilitate the class, creating an environment that is student-centered.  Occasionally, they instruct students but using a technique in which they interact with each other by asking a question that one of them answers or redirects back to the students.  Students are asked to reflect, journal, and share their ideas with the larger group.  The room is equipped with an IDEA paint wall for generating collaborative brainstorming sessions.  In addition, Bo and Jill make use of Gamestorming techniques to help students generate ideas and develop plans.

The images above are of a Gamestorming activity called Graphic Game Plan.  The activity is designed to help a group develop a strategy, timeline, and resources for addressing a question or problem that needs action.  These represent three game plans for three groups of students.

Members of the class were put into groups of two and asked to create ONE slide that could used to explain the concept of Tragedy of the Commons.  They have been researching this concept as a potential explanation or model for their work on the KP Challenge.  I was fascinated by the concept itself, as well as their explanations.  In addition, I was equally impressed with the quality of their presentations and understanding of Tragedy of the Commons.  The short video clip below shows one group practicing their presentation (movie they played was not included).  Students had 1 minute to present their 1 slide.

VID00760.MP4 Watch on Posterous

They were then asked to journal on what they learned from the presentations in terms of content or presentation style and effectiveness.  Finally, they are using some of Gar Reynolds techniques for understanding how to give an effective presentation.

Really cool class!

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