Alaska Studies Final Reflection

What did you as a teacher learn about project-based learning?

Accountability. So often does this term, when used in the school setting, refer to punishment, blame, and guilt. My experience engaging in project-based learning with Peter Pappas taught me that accountability can be empowerment.

Peter and Angie communicated clearly at the beginning of our courses, that they wanted to do more than just preach, that they wanted to show and practice what it means to be culturally responsive teachers with the use of an iBooks publication, which is to be published for a public audience. When the structures were laid out and we as MAT students assigned ourselves, from that moment, the choice were ours to make.

With that came freedom, independence, determination, and accountability. As students, we were accountable for our own contributions to not only our own learning, but also the learning for our group. An open-ended topic with numerous approaches, we faced challenges ranging from group dynamics, personal advocacy, peer review, and celebration.

In my experiences working at an alternative high school in Juneau, students often express discomfort in being given a choice. Many students are victims of an abuse of power and control, and independence can be overwhelming; I know this, because as I was working through the project, I realized that my own upbringing was causing me to crash hard into the essence of project-based learning. When I attended elementary school in Korea, children suffered corporal punishment for getting an incorrect answer in a spelling test…we were eight years old. So much of my life has been about showing teacher-pleasing behaviors in attempts to fit into a square mold that my amorphous identity could not possibly do so.

I think looking back on these past three weeks, I want to research ways that I can help students feel safe in approaching decision-making. I am especially interested in working with high school students because for a lot of our teens, they are stuck between a hard place and a rock of expectations…they are “old enough” to know what is right and wrong, yet they are “too young” to make decisions for themselves. How do we teach students to become critical thinkers, if we cannot even empower them to be comfortable with their own strengths? Once we learn to recognize where we stand, only in relativity to our past experiences (and not in competition with one another) can education become a personal victory, and not a chore to be checked off for our parents, teachers, and the judges of this world.


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