We are still at a preliminary stage in organizing the chapter for the book (mentioned on the Publications page) dealing with suitable topics for Whole School projects. We need first to establish a set of criteria for selecting topics. Here are our attempts to sketch some criteria. Please bear in mind that these are very much a preliminary set, and that we invite your advice, suggestions, and criticisms.
These criteria should be made explicit and clear to the whole community involved in the planning.
Criteria. How does one find a topic that:
- gets everybody on board
- is sufficiently complex that it can sustain 3 years of work and exploration and study by hundreds of people
- can be completed in three years
- is not too complex that it cannot be adequately brought into focus
- can lead to a specific public product
- leads to an satisfying product internal to the school
- permits the youngest and oldest and the full diversity of students and teachers to make appropriate contributions that satisfy each group and also add something significant to the product
- can be divided into coherent components that can be worked on independently
- can be presented to public bodies/political powers
- can be represented in some form that will enrich the school
- engages the emotions and imaginations of all involved.
These might seem like a challenging set of criteria, but I think we can find many project topics that will satisfy them.
Initially I thought that it would be always best if the topic should involve local phenomena—such as plants and animals of the desert if the school is in Alamogordo, New Mexico, sheep farming if it is in Walworth, New Zealand, water resources if it is in West Vancouver, Canada, the Columbia River Gorge if it is near Portland, Oregon, the castle if it is in Ludlow, England, or the Yarra River if it is in Melbourne, Australia, mines and mining if it is in Falun, Sweden or Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, etc. Such a local focus would have something in common with Place-Based educational programs (see, e.g., http://www.ierg.net/iee/place-and-sense/).
But maybe a WSP on the 1920s in Winnipeg, or the 1960s in Scotland, or Mars, or Newspapers, or Fishing, and similar topics might be suitable for students anywhere.
One might also imagine WSPs on:
- Community arts projects—music, painting, graffiti, architecture, people, funding, markets, etc.
- Mining—tools, problems, history, dangers, etc.
- Patterns of local settlement; kinds of building and purposes, history of settlement, problems created by changing forms of transport.
- Local transportation patterns. What moves, to where, problems, solutions.
- Desertification and attempts to combat it; species at risk; space exploration (what, where, how far, exploration by physical means, by visual means, what are we learning; puzzles, etc.)