Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fashion Show: A Real World Learning Adventure

Did you know that we have a fashion design studio right here at Austin Elementary?  That's right!  We have a group of approximately 16 young ladies who, several weeks ago, decided they wanted to learn the skills necessary to design, create, and model their own fashions.  And what's even more amazing is that these young ladies were not just thinking of themselves when they made this decision.  They were looking for a way to use their interests and talents to make the world a more beautiful place.  

These young ladies have learned how to use a sewing machine, read patterns, measure models, count stitches, up-cycle old clothing, create hems, and so much more.  They have
met every challenge head on and have overcome every obstacle they encountered.  Don't know how to sew?  No problem!  We'll find some experts to teach us.  Fabric is too expensive?  No worries.  We'll take apart old clothing and create something new.  Production not moving fast enough?  Let's recruit more volunteers.  For every problem, they have found an answer.  Persistence and task commitment have characterized their work every step of the way!

So now, their plan is put on a fashion show highlighting the designs they have created.  The show will take place on Friday, May 31st at 2:00 p.m. in the Austin Elementary cafeteria.  Admission to the show is free...well, almost free.  They are asking that every visitor donate one can of food as the cost of admission.  This food will be used to supplement the food pantry at Austin Elementary.  This food pantry helps to provide food for families in need right here in Coppell!  But the girls do not plan on stopping there!  They want to take their efforts a step further.  They have arranged to auction off their creations on the day of the fashion show and donate all proceeds to a charity that has yet to be determined.  I can't wait to hear what they decide!

While all of this may be very exciting, some of you may be wondering why this is happening during the school day.  Why aren't these children busy learning math or developing their writing skills?  Why aren't they using this class time to improve their reading or learn more about our earth and the world around them? Those are valid questions.  In fact, those are great questions, and ones the girls took some time to examine early on in the process.  When challenged to justify the use of class time to pursue this endeavor, here is what the girls came up with.
  • We are learning to measure.
  • We are building our vocabulary.
  • We are developing reading comprehension.
  • We are using scientific observations and evaluating various fabrics and tools.
  • We are learning to convert inches, feet, and yards.
  • We are collaborating and using teamwork to create our designs.
That's quite a list, especially when you consider that it was generated by a group of 10 year old girls who are excited about their learning and passionate about the contribution they are making to our world.  And while I believe this is a great list, I would like to add some observations of my own.  While working on this authentic, real world project these young ladies are...
  • building verbal communication skills as they interact with each other, community volunteers, and school administration to coordinate the fashion show.
  • developing their writing skills as they develop flyers, programs, and other materials.
  • learning to effectively use electronic communication tools to coordinate with each other and the school administration. 
  • developing creativity, problem solving skills, and persistence in the face of challenges.
  • learning that they have the ability to make a valuable contribution to our world.
  • learning to manage the details of a multi-faceted project including timelines, budgets, division of labor, advertisement, and communication.
  • building relationships, not only with their peers, but with adults throughout the school and in the community.
  • receiving the message that they matter.  Their talents, their strengths, their passions, their interests...they matter!
So, lets go back to those original questions.  Why aren't they using this time to learn math, reading, writing, and science?  The truth is, they are!  These traditional academic skills are embedded into every facet of this project. While it clearly looks very different from the traditional classroom many of us grew up in, the learning that is taking place is authentic, meaningful, and powerfully real.  The more important question, I believe, is what is preventing us from doing this more often?  What is holding us back from meeting our learners where they are?  And where do we go from here?  How do we, as educators, move forward in a world that is demanding creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and global awareness?  Maybe, just maybe, we should ask our learners!

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