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Harvard Project Zero: Making, Innovating & Learning by Fernanda Ferrigno

posted May 22, 2017, 11:52 AM by Diana Salda–a
A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity of attending a Harvard Project Zero conference in Pittsburgh for a few days.  Harvard Project Zero was founded many years ago to study and improve education in the arts by a Harvard graduate school of education.  What they told us in the opening plenary was that throughout the years, this program has been expanding their perspectives to study a little bit more about understanding, thinking, creativity, nature of intelligence, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking. Most of their projects take place at different schools and they are long, deep research projects that connect those specific schools with all the Harvard Project Zero team.

When I heard I was going to this profesional development, I started learning about it, and reading about the courses they were going to offer, since we had to choose and suscribe to them before getting there.  There were so many options, and a great variety of awesome subjects, that choosing ended up being a very difficult task.  A few weeks or days before leaving, we started receiving all the information of what was going to happen.  The conference was taking place in two different locations.  The first day we visited a very interesting and nice middle school called Quaker Valley.  This school had a variety of maker center workshops, decorated windows and hallways by students and a very interactive library.  We first began with an opening assembly at the gym, where David Perkins, a director of Project Zero, talked to us about "hacking the mind".  This opening speech was very interesting and innovative, that's when I knew the rest of the conferences were going to be very useful.  Professor Perkins mentioned some strategies that our brains can use to remember important things, or to learn things in different ways.  Also, on how to "hack" ourselves and how others "hack" us for different reasons.  We want our brain and our creativity to work outside its normal range, which means "hacking the mind".  He also mentioned, that just like the event's name, we always have to be making, innovating and learning whatever we can.

After the plenary, there were two more sessions I was attending, and then there was a plenary closure session for the day.  The 1st one I went to talked to us about two different foster homes, one with kids and another one with teenagers and young adults.  On both of the foster homes, they had a huge space for maker center tasks.  What they wanted to do when they came up with this idea, was to make kids and teens to feel safe and comfortable in their foster homes, and to make them feel engaged on something interesting, and not only reading or writing subjects from school.  They taught them how to work with different people, different strategies, and different techniques to create things.  Their goal was to help them feel empowered and successful with whatever they were creating, and they had the chance of taking what they had made to start making their own furniture for their soon to be new apartments, once they grew out of the foster home.  Listening and watching vídeos of how this project has been so successful and is still going on, made me realize how exposing kids and teenagers to innovating new resources can be so positive for them and will make them feel more confident and sure about themselves.  Thinking on how to apply it back at ASFM, specifically with 1st graders, I thought about having similar to STEM tasks, but with different goals, similar to the ones they talked about at Project Zero, making sure they are using their creativity and innovating skills.

At the end of day 1, we had another very interesting and helpful session by Ron Richard, author of "10 Things to say to your students every day" and some other books.  He began telling us about how the classroom culture affects every single thing about it.  So we need to be careful on what our classroom culture is and how everyone is managing it.  Culture, as he said, should be created right from the start.  Then, he talked to us about his book about the 10 things we should say to our students every day:
  1. Hello and goodbye
  2. What makes you say that? WMYST?
  3. Talk to me about what you are doing
  4. Here's where we are going with this
  5. Here's the thinking you'll need to do
  6. Let's debrief
  7. I've noticed
  8. We
  9. I'm sorry
  10. WOW!

Day 1 for me was so exciting and very enriching.  Everyone I had a chance to talk to, knew so much and had wonderful and innovating ideas.  That same day, I had the opportunity to create my ow fidget cube made out of wood and glued together by me.  Now it's part of my 1st grade classroom and my kids are so excited that I had the chance of building it.  Then, we were ready for day 2, which was taking place at a different location: Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Cathedral of Learning, which were beside each other, just in front of the University of Pittsburgh.

Day 2 began with a very enriching and interesting opening session, where instead of just talking to us about the project they were going to present to us, they had lots of people up on stage and they acted everything out in different ways.  That kept us so engaged and interested in the subject and they talked to us about a project called "Agency by design".  This project also talks about maker movement ideas and how there are different ways of creating and researching something.  In almost every research they had, they ended up with the parts, purpose, complexity strategy, to summarize everything.  They made us try this process with a random object you found in your backpack, bag, etc.  Thinking of the arts, purpose and complexity of a chapstick that I found in my purse was a little more complicated than I thought.  

And the other session that I loved and found very useful and innovating was one called "Maker-centered learning in an ELA (english, language arts) classroom.  Here, the Quaker Valley Middle School librarian taught us how to look at writing or reading as a complex system, and we all started with the "parts, purpose, complexity" strategy with a different text.  We had to read the text, break down a passage or a short part of the text, and find the tone.  After we had done that, we had to create a 3D model that represents the passage of the book and the tone, using all the materials you want from the maker center workshop.  After that has been created, students are supposed to present it to their classmates, by going "live" on the screen.  The teacher would give them and iPad and while someone reads the specific passage where you can detect the tone of the story, another person is moving the live video around the 3D model.  This makes the rest of the classroom get into the story and empathize with what's going on.  Take a look at this image and watch the video to get a better idea of what we did!  Everyone was so engaged, and I'm definitely trying this soon in my classroom and planning on making it a technique used in some lessons next year!

Overall, Harvard Project Zero was an awesome PD to attend to.  It's very enriching, innovating and interactive, you leave every session eager to learn more about every subject they talked about and ready to use everything you learned.  If I could, I would definitely go back to the same PD and try different sessions since they all seemed to be very good and enriching.