students work on different projects; a telescope, a picnic table, a weather balloon, a 3-d map

Projects and Critical Exploration

Meaningful learning requires complexity, public presentation, and support from a skilled teacher. At Rivendell Academy we build learning around complex interdisciplinary projects and "Critical exploration" (CE), a philosophy and pedagogy that empowers students to explore complex and puzzling materials and provides teachers with tools to reveal the intricacy of student thinking.

In our classrooms, captivating materials and students' ideas drive classroom discussion and students learn to trust their own thinking and that of their peers. Rivendell has embarked upon Critical Exploration in partnership with Critical Explorers and the Harvard Graduate School of Education and with support of the Rowland Foundation.

7th grade language arts and social studies classes created an interactive choose-your-own-adventure game to demonstrate the benefits and the dangers of one of the world's oldest trade routes. After interviewing a cancer researcher, cancer survivor, or doctor, students created videos focusing on the relationship between cell division and cancer. At the same time as they were learning the science, students were learning interviewing and videography skills. High School physics and engineering students designed, built, and launched a weather balloon carrying a camera and instruments to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity. They wrote a grant to purchase supplies, partnered with a local radio club, built a flight computer, and coordinated their flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration.

"In this project we created a game, but what we really learned is that the Silk Road was as much about sharing cultures and ideas as about making money."

- Student reflection on 7th grade Silk Road project

"We saw leadership and engagement emerge from students who hadn't previously displayed those skills."

- Teacher reflection