Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why School Should Be More Like Project Runway Junior

So I have to admit that I've become a little obsessed with the TV show Project Runway Junior.  This show airs on Lifetime, and it is a spinoff of the original adult version Project Runway.  Instead of aspiring adult fashion designers, participants now range in age from thirteen to seventeen.  While I occasionally would watch an episode here and there of the original if nothing else was on, my interest in this new version has become somewhat obsessive though not for obvious reasons.  Many people who watch this show are into design and fashion (don't get me wrong, I like trendy clothing), but I've taken an interest in this show because I see real teenagers following their passions and taking part in real-world learning opportunities.  Every time I watch this show I think, "This is how school should be!"

If you haven't seen the show, let me break down exactly what I mean.  

1.  Open-ended tasks require participants to tap into their passion, creativity, and critical thinking.
Each week there is a new design challenge presented to the teenage designers.  The tasks are presented in such a way that no two of the final fashion designs turn out the same or even resemble each other, unlike the projects that are often assigned to students at school.  In order to complete the weekly challenge, each participant must really tap into their own passions and creativity to create a unique end product.  Inevitably, as with any challenge, issues arise and the teens must rely on their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to design something that truly resembles them as a designer.  

2.  The "designers" receive honest and useful formative assessment feedback throughout the process.
As the participants work to create their designs for the weekly challenge, Tim Gunn, a fashion consultant for both versions of the show, checks in with each and every teen.  When meeting with them, he asks guiding questions and provides them with feedback to help them improve their work so they we be as successful as possible when their models take the runway wearing their design.  All participants, adults and teens, seem to really love Tim Gunn and take his feedback to heart; I suspect it's because he truly care about their work, their growth, and their success.   

3. Each challenge is assessed by an authentic audience.
At the end of every challenge, the teenage participants must send their designs down the runway on a model.  Unlike school where most student work is just assessed by the teacher, on this show celebrity judges who are well-known in the fashion industry critique and evaluate the final products.  It is their decisions that allow the teens to stay on and compete for another week.  Knowing they have real-world experts assessing their designs pushes the participants to create and work to the best of their ability.  

4.  The show provides real-world learning and application.
These teenagers are not just creating drawings or discussing their design ideas.  They actually have to brainstorm, draw, shop for fabric and materials, sew and create a final product worthy of walking down a runway.  As each week progresses, the designers get closer to the show's prize which is a scholarship to a highly-regarded fashion school, opportunities to have their work displayed in a popular teen magazine, top-of-the-line crafting studio, and $25,000 to help launch their own fashion line. Because of this, the teens must take on the role of expert fashion designers; they are doing the work of people who work in this field.  

5.  If the participants are to be successful, they will need to embrace a growth mindset.  
Each week becomes more challenging for the individual participants.  In order for them to keep moving on in the show, they must take to heart the feedback of Tim Gunn and the judges so they can continue to learn and grow as designers.  Some teens struggle with specific challenges, and must learn from their mistakes or blunders in order to improve their overall design sense.  Usually, it is the participant who does not use their mistakes as learning opportunities that will be voted off the show.  Without a growth-mindset, these teens (and real-life designers) wouldn't make it very far in such a competitive industry.  

Ideally, schools today should be asking students to take part in learning opportunities like those provided in Project Runway Junior.  All students should have a chance to engage in passion-driven learning, engage in creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and be given opportunities to learn and grow from their mistakes.  As educators, we are doing students a disservice by not providing more authentic and meaningful real-world applications.  I can't help but wonder, how can we be more like Project Runway Junior in our own approach to education? 

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