Education should draw large circles, not small (pt. 2 – practical application-doing service)

Posted on 08.18.2012


Last week I wrote about some philosophical underpinnings I have about why I teach and some of the values I bring to my practice.  The post was titled, Education should draw large circles, not small (pt. 1- philosophical underpinnings).  I’ve also been thinking about how that can be applied to the classroom and school setting.

One solution I have developed is to actually encourage students and faculty to pursue their passions and encourage everyone to love.  I know this is difficult in this day and age of education reform and fear; but it’s essential to remember the things that make us human and happy.

I don’t want to stop and just simply being passionate and loving.  I’d like for us all to share.  A key value that seems to go side by side of love and passion is also service.  I think this idea of service is one great way to draw larger circles.

It’s experiential, it’s project based, it’s collaborative, it allows for love, it allows for passion and fundamentally, doing service is a moral value that I do think we all should aspire to have.

Here is a practical application of this idea:

But first, some background about where I teach:  Northeast HS is huge, about 3000+ students every year; our IB program is much smaller though: it has one section of Juniors and Seniors and a pre-IB track as well.  In all, our IB community is about 140 students and about 7 teachers who teach at least one IB class.

This year I am thrilled to have given up some responsibilities to be the CAS coordinator for our International Baccalaureate program at Northeast High School.  CAS stands for Community, Action and Service.  If you haven’t hear of the International Baccalaureate program, I suggest you look it up.  The curriculum is awesome, and at it’s center is the CAS project every student must do.

Over the past 2 weeks I have been pouring over the CAS handbook to design a program to work at Northeast.  There will be two main components to the CAS program:

  1. Program wide days of service – two days in the fall and three days in the spring ALL IB students will go to different service sites across the city.  This past week I asked IB students what they wanted to do and the suggestions ranged from building houses or fixing trails in Fairmont park to hanging out in the terminally sick child’s wing of a hospital to volunteering at an animal shelter.  I was blown away by how excited and passionate the brainstorming sessions were with the students.
  2. Individual projects – this is just for the true IB students, the Juniors and Seniors.  The projects encorage students to investigate something beyond the academic classroom work.  In essence, it’s a project to encourage them to pursue a passion, fear or question that they have yet to challenge themselves with.

I created Northeast IB CAS Handbook for the students and staff and I am happy to share it with you all; you can download it off this blog and use it as you see fit.  I only hope that you can provide me with feedback on the parts you like, do not use or tweak.

Ultimately, the CAS project is nothing new or groundbreaking: it is a way to encourage students to pursue areas of their passions that are related, but not part of school.  It is experiential learning at it’s finest and ultimately, the students create projects that solve real challenges in our lives.  It can be as small as learning to play an instrument and then performing or facing a fear; maybe a student wants to learn how to program software to help disseminate information better; every project will be different and every project can create a larger circle for that student.  A performance moves others, drawing a larger circle; facing a fear makes an individual stronger to then take bigger, healthy risks; a programer might create the next generation of social networking or who knows what!

I am excited to see what this year brings and the contributions students make to their lives, each other’s lives and how they will draw larger circles to include others and affect those lives.

This is going to be interesting!