Festival del Sol: Students Exhibit Their Learning and Growth

Every year, our school has a school wide exhibition of learning called Festival del Sol (The Sun Festival). It is incredible because the creative potential of what students are capable of really shines through (pun intended). I think the teachers are always really exhausted because this is the time where we see the most growth in our students and it takes a lot of energy to help them through that. Watching them learn time management (some more than others) and work through conflicts and obstacles with their students is gratifying to see.

On your right, you'll see one a really cool example of project based learning. At this exhibition, people entered a seemingly normal restaurant and watch films about the dangers of intoxication and gambling only to be whispered the secret password "Gatsby sent me" and sent through a secret door behind a bookshelf. On the other side, you enter a speakeasy/casino where students teach probability by demonstrating how easy it is for the casino house to win overall. Meanwhile all of the students wear badges saying "ask me about the 1920s" and speak to you about the roaring 20s and what life is like during Gatsby's time. There is no question when you have left that students have learned.

How do students get to that level of creativity and capability? We do not get some special "gifted" student, we have the same student as any one else but we spend years unlocking their potential and creativity. Growth as a person is our highest metric of success and as we walk the halls from 9th to 12th grade, it is incredible to see that progression.

In the 10th grade you will see the student begin to step forward as a confident person, one interested in making decisions and creating. Changing the world is a common theme at this age, and it was evident tonight in the stories about Africa, and protesting the Vietnam War, sweatshops and so on. I love these playable miniature golf courses that filled up our entire auditorium and you could ask the students about the angles they designed in Geometry to determine the least possible amount of shots it would take to sink it in the cup.

I am totally biased about the 9th grade as that is what I teach but there is so much that happens this year. Imagine you are a student who enters our school, hearing the teachers talk about the Habits of the Heart and Mind and how we will are going to learn from these crazy projects. There is the added stress of finding one's identity and where that fits into their peer groups and how they can best fit into a culture. Festival del Sol is the moment where we see our 9th graders really transform and see what they can do.

The way I plan projects is I always see what college students are doing and think, "How can I have my freshman math and physics students do that?" For this year's big project I asked them to learn to program Arduino Microcontrollers. These are amazing devices that have so much open ended potential and they can be purchased for the same price as a dinner for a family of 4. I let the students search and come up with ideas and they did not disappoint. I kept hearing adults and students talk in the halls about this bear that could wave hi (see right).

The group of the left created a laser activated shooting gallery where LEDs lit up when the sensor was activated. There was a great electromagnet controlled catapult where the girl said she got to spend a whole day learning with her dad how to build in his shop; and another group who became experts at soldering but also learned what happens when you put your IC chips in backwards (it's not good). The learning goes way deeper than what can be measured by the standardized tests and it is truly a beautiful thing.

I have a great passion for women in STEM, in fact I actively pursue them to join Robotics and get into programming and the like. Women have a different way of looking at the world and to see their creativity and passion unlocked is wonderful. This project was a way for me to help students who would never think they could do what the robotics team does see their potential. There was an all girl group that took on a very ambitious project, worked hard at it and it did not work. Did that stop them? No way, they found a new project and worked at it with equal passion and created this incredible LED Dice.

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Another all female group was intrigued by my statement when we started this project that one could make a video game with the Arduino. With no experience at all, they dove into the process of connecting an accelerometer to an animated monkey. I couldn't contain my delight when they told me of all of the young children and adults who got such a kick out of putting on the "Banana Hat" and making the monkey on the screen jump with it.

Another project played an 8-bit programmed version of Lady Gaga, another group made an electronic MIDI drum kit. Wall-E even made an appearance!

Even though these exhibitions take so much out of all of us, it is hard to imagine not having them. A science fair, a play, using the learning to benefit the community, the possibilities are endless and the payoff is huge. Check out BrokenAirplane's project resources for more ideas.

Thank goodness, the day after is clean up and then we take our Spring Break. We are exhausted and will use the time to recharge and spend some time with family and friends. I leave you with Marisol (one of our delightful and energetic Spanish teachers) wearing the Banana Hat and playing the Monkey Video Game.

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