Our first project of the year here at TCEC is called the Whimsy Project. Each of the grades are split into groups and create a product depending on their grade level. For example, Freshmen are abducted by aliens and are taken to a new planet which they have to explore and map, Sophomores have to create their own animal species, and Juniors are creating a Rube Goldberg device.
Many might be asking themselves where the idea of the Whimsy Project came from. It was inspired by a book called Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner. Wagner is a researcher at Harvard who found that students who went on to become exceptional innovators often completed whimsical projects during high school and college. These projects helped students learn to generate creative solutions and think outside the box - two skills in high demand in today’s economy. TCEC’s focus on these skills not only helps engage students in fun projects, but also makes them more attractive to future employers.
For the freshmen project scenario, students are taken to a new planet and have to find a way to explore, map, and survive in groups of four people.The project has a constraint that you are only able to use the tools that were available in the 1700's. Students must create maps and a documentary about their planet, then write a constitution outlining the founding principles of it.
While the freshmen are on a new planet the sophomores have to create a brand new animal species. This might sound easy at first, but once you add in all of the specifications it starts to get really challenging. For example, student groups must describe what their species would eat or how it will they survive in the environment. The project will push students to describe their species in great detail from the angles of biology, math, history, and English. At the final exhibition on October 6, students will parade their imaginary species and present nature documentaries illustrating the natural history of their species.
Last but not least, the juniors are creating their very own Rube Goldberg device - basically a machine or contraption that uses a chain reaction to accomplish a very simple task in a very complicated manner. This task will require students to use complex physics equations to describe the motions of their machines, while also integrating Spanish phrases and a political cartoon featuring a historical social commentary.
Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning units like this do not happen often at an ordinary high school and help students get excited about learning. These engaging activities help students figure out how they can use the knowledge that they learn in class and apply it to a scenario. Projects are just one of the ways that TCEC does learning differently and prepares students for success in college and beyond.