2016-17 PBL Project

Explore! Community School held its first Curricular Summit in order to inform our project-based learning for our second year on Tuesday, April 15, 2016. At the summit, staff and stakeholders collaborated to identify meaningful learning opportunities by gathering information on the problems, challenges, passions and opportunities of our local community. From this collaboration, three main threads of discussion emerged: Social Justice, Health and Nutrition, and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Inspired by each of these three threads, Explore staff developed the following question to guide the first unit of the year:

  • How can I ensure access and opportunity for all in my community and world?

As Explorers have sought to answer this question, they developed an understanding of the diverse culture of Nashville. Between 2000 and 2012, Nashville’s foreign-born population grew by more than 86%, accounting for nearly 60% of Nashville’s population growth. New Americans now make up 12% of Nashville’s overall population (over 1 in 10 Nashvillians) and have played a key role in Nashville’s recent growth and prosperity while overcoming language and citizenship challenges.

Learning about the diversity of Nashville through the immigrant and refugee experience has helped build a foundation for Explorers to grapple with the idea that there are differences in the kinds of opportunities available for different populations. It has also provided a relevant context for understanding cultural differences with the goal of creating an inclusive community and increasing access and opportunity for all. Through this approach, we hope we have developed a greater understanding of the strength in diversity and built a foundation for honest, challenging, and productive conversations about discrimination, poverty, and opportunity for years to come.

Directly following this project Explorers returned their studies to the topic of health. They worked to answer the question:

  • How can we promote the holistic health of those in our community?

This was a very special project because it evolved out of the school’s partnership with the Vanderbilt Community Health program. Explorers began the unit exploring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, returning to their study of healthy eating, healthy sleep habits, and the importance of clean water. The events in Flint, Michigan inspired our Explorers to build solutions for conserving water and for keeping water clean. At this point in the unit our community participated in a poverty simulation lead by Safe Haven. We also worked together to provide a shared dinner to residents living at this shelter. Explorers then deepened their understanding of mindfulness and began working on the creation of their Human Body Book! These books were published and shared with the community at local book stores for authors’ readings and signing as a neighborhood book tour.

  • What is beauty?

The 2016 – 2017 school year ended with an exploration that investigated culturally responsive teaching and learning. For this unit Explorers worked to answer the question “What is beauty?”. Through this exploration they examined both internal and external influences on our perception of beauty. Explorers read The Best Part of Me and self-identified the parts of their bodies that were their favorite. They wrote stories sharing why their classmates were beautiful from the inside out. They worked to discover an individual and collective message of beauty to share with our community in final works of art. This unit is a favorite of teachers and has been repeated several times. As the unit has evolved, the medium of art has too. Through this unit Explorers have experienced mural art, quilt making, mosaic art, printmaking, photography, environmental art, and music. The Explorers’ work has been featured as a stop on the East Side Art Stumble. It is our hope that this unit will help Explorers uncover the beauty in themselves, in others, and around them for years to come.