It is easy to tell when a project/assignment has truly motivated a group of students. To ensure this result, one must make certain there is a clear purpose behind the lesson and students understand that purpose. One of the best ways this takes place is by using hands-on, community service-based projects that take on meaning outside of a number in a teacher's gradebook. This is certainly the case for my CTE Advanced Studies students who are working on the VR Prison Flip project.
This past Monday, while all their classmates were enjoying an extended weekend, eight students rose out of bed early to meet me at DSA for a trip to the prison site in Scotland County. Each knew we were leaving campus at 7am and agreed this trip was essential to our success, despite the sacrifices they needed to make. After a two hour drive, we arrived and began put the plan we established the previous week into motion in order to gather all the measurements needed to complete our modeling of the prison. The students were divided into two teams of four with each individual having a distinct job: two were to take the physical measurements using both tape and laser measuring tools, one was to record those measurements on hand sketches of each building and the fourth was to photograph everything possible to get a sense of textures and physical space. Since we only need to be concerned with one building's interior, one team was assigned to measure it while the other would start measuring every other building's exterior on the site.
It was decided that our first area of focus would be the old cell block building. In terms of projected purpose and complexity, this was the most important building on the site. Besides being oddly shaped, this was the only facility that required interior measurements. So we knew we would be spending the majority of the trip on it. Growing Change envisions this building being used as a museum/conference space as well as housing for visitors of incarcerated family members just down the road at the new prison facility.
Once inside, the students had to plan how to attack small rooms, hallways, and how measure locked areas. It was quickly discovered that the building was completely symmetrical, making the task at hand much easier than originally expected. They measured everything they could including individual cells and the objects contained within them. They could then transfer the measurements quickly to the other side of the sketch and before they knew it, they were done! Still, due to the importance of precision, it took them a couple of hours to complete their assigned location.
On the outside, the building had more walls than the average building with twists and turns at nearly every 30 feet! Students also realized it was important to locate every window's location. They did this by measuring a single window and then identifying how far it was from the edge of the building to the center location of each window along the wall. This way, they could center the windows on that spot and require fewer numbers to crunch when we returned to campus.
After a short break for lunch, the students tackled the remaining buildings at the prison. The goal was to complete the rest of the facility as fast and accurately as possible so we could make it back to Durham ahead of schedule. The site was split up and each team knew what they needed to do. Luckily, the remaining buildings were generally rectangular in design, making the afternoon work much easier than the morning. And by mid-afternoon, we were back on the bus and headed home arriving on campus at 5:30!
The trip made for a long and busy day together but it was also very productive. So, what did the students take away from this trip? Besides collecting the remaining measurements needed to complete the project, they put skills learned in math class to practical use. Some of the buildings were too tall to measure by hand as we didn't have access to a ladder, so they had to estimate roof angles to calculate actual height. Besides typical class lessons, students learned the importance of attention to detail and planning. Much of the interior was glossed over in terms of content capture until we discussed what needed to be measured to get an accurate vision of the site's current state. And, they saw how coming together as a team with a plan can help them all benefit in completing this ambitious project. I think it is fair to say that sacrificing our time off to work on the VR Prison Flip project was a day well spent!
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.