Last year's trip to Costa Rica showed us that education can, and should, be a life-altering experience. This year, a largely new group of students, have decided to learn about and travel to Puerto Rico. With this new topic and destination in mind, we have developed a year-long interdisciplinary class that is based on the same three core principles:

1) Travel to expand students' horizons
2) An explicit connection between the classroom and real world
3) The use of sweat equity for students to see that their efforts can make a difference

During the early fall, the curriculum was largely focused on developing the 21st Century Skills of problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and collaboration. This was initially done using group challenges in the classroom, but then became vitally important once we started raking lawns. In addition to being our major fundraiser, this hard work put students in positions that required group problem solving, as well as perseverance and responsibility – traits that we all know are central to changing the trajectory of their lives.

During the winter and spring, each student will be developing an independent research project on a chosen aspect of Puerto Rico.
We hope that you will keep checking back as we share our learning, growth and adventures.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Puerto Rico Project: Part 2

I am finally starting to reach a final decision regarding my Puerto Rican project. While I had originally set out to do something for each of the three time periods (Pre-Colonization, Spanish Rule, and U.S. Rule) I have decided to drop the U.S. time period, partly because it is more politically-based than history-based, and partly due to time restraints. My original plan to involve three time periods was only because I was worried I would not have enough material to do a project on just one of them. Throughout my research process, however, I have obtained more than enough information that I feel confident and content with just the first two time periods.

Now, I have gathered the information, I have to find a unique and creative angle for my final project. For the Spanish Rule period, I have decided to do a collection diary entry for the major explorer of the time—Christopher Columbus. I am going to create some (mock) diary/journal entries for him that chronicle his adventures and discoveries. I hope that I will be able to shed a “new light” on a very over-popularized historical character. For instance, Columbus did not just sail up to Puerto Rico and say “Hello, Indians. I’m here to claim this land for Spain, so if you and your tribal folk would be so kind as to vacate the area immediately, I’d be much obliged. Oh, and before you leave, don’t mind if we steal your food, sleep with your wives, and spread terrible European diseases like smallpox and Syphilis to you all.” Obviously, that is a poor dramatization, but it demonstrates my point well. My point being, when Columbus arrived at Puerto Rico, he did not just sweet talk his way into controlling the land. There was fighting and bloodshed, and discord for both sides. I heard a quote recently that stated: “History has a tendency to paint murderers as heroes.” It really made me stop and think, and I’ve concluded with the impression that sometimes, this is true. Now, I’m not calling Columbus a murderer—at least not at the moment—but there is evidence to suggest that he was not nearly as saint-like as people regard him as being. I hope that when I am writing my final project, I am able to include my thoughts and opinions without it sounding too much like an editorial. I, myself, am not a fan of projects that are simply facts and data, with no creative thinking. There is no point in doing something—whether it is a poster, a research paper, or a slideshow—if it does not include some semblance of the author/creator’s personal thoughts or opinions on the subject.

I have also decided to create a children’s book based on the adventure and journey of Juan Ponce de Leon and his notorious quest for the Fountain of Youth. I am particularly excited about this part, because it incorporates my lifelong passion for mythology. I still haven’t decided if I am going to center the book around Ponce de Leon, himself, and include elements of the Fountain of Youth—or if I will make the story about the legend of the Fountain of Youth, and have Ponce de Leon as a character.

For the Pre-Colonization portion of my project, I have a few ideas for final projects, but I haven’t reached a conclusion as of yet. I have decided to base this period on the two main Native-American tribes of Puerto Rico (the Arawak tribe and the Carib tribe). What I really want to put across in my project is a familiarization, of sorts, that these were people—and not savages—and they existed, functioned and succeeded as a society long before we (the Europeans) interfered, and tried to “improve” (via converting) their lifestyle so that they were “civilized” like us. They had a quality of life that suited them just fine; just because they were not as technologically advanced as us, that does not diminish their respectability, as people.