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Peacekeepers of Chicago: Illuminating Standards Video Series

What happens when students take ownership over their education and push their learning beyond the walls of their school buildings to activate change in their communities? They develop impactful and transformational projects like the Peacekeepers of Chicago. This video highlights a collection of high quality, student-driven projects that were produced by a group of 7th-grade students from Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago, IL (2012-2013). Additionally, this video illuminates what can happen when schools, families, and communities establish partnerships with one another in an effort to boost student achievement and simultaneously cover Common Core State Standards. In this video, you will learn how projects like the Peacekeepers of Chicago not only help to drive basic skill work and deeper learning amongst students, but also help to grow and develop lifelong learners and community organizers.

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standards: CCSS ELA standards W.7.1, W.7.4, W.7.5, SL.7.1, L.7.2, and L.7.6.

The Illuminating Standards Project

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (EL Education) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
- What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
- How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
- How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos

Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- [Female] The high quality work that is produced by students who attend Expeditionary Learning schools like Polaris Charter Academy help to illuminate what can happen when schools, families, and communities establish partnerships with one another. As a result of these partnerships, projects like the Peacekeepers of Chicago help to drive basic skill work and deeper learning amongst students. In 2012, 7th grade students from Polaris Charter Academy decided that they wanted to honor their local community members who serve as Peacekeepers. They collaboratively wrote a book to honor the stories of local citizens working for peace. “Peacekeepers of Chicago” consists of biographical sketches, and photographic portraits of select community members. Students worked in groups of three to write each biographical sketch. Each sketch is written as an argumentative piece and includes both qualitative and quantitative evidence that defends the claim that each person deserves the title of “Peacekeeper”.

- So, with the Peacekeeper Project, the project started out as a study of the Constitution. And the issue that was happening at that time was Chicago was in debate on gun laws, and allowing the conceal and carry law. And as we studied the second amendment, and as we were circling up together as crew, it turned out that students were not only interested in the gun law debate, but they were interested in the connection that guns have in the community. We are located in West Humboldt Park, and West Humboldt Park has a high crime rate. With, like, battery, robbery, and shootings in the neighborhood. And it’s something that the students live every single day. So our conversation started shifting from the gun debate to the role that guns play in our every day lives. And so that is when the Peacekeeper Project was born.

- We’re trying to, as part of our mission statement, create lifelong learners who are gonna grow to become active citizens in their community.

- As students were working on the “Peacekeepers of Chicago” booklet, they made the decision to turn their topic of study into a call to action. In addition to the booklet, they organized and promoted a citywide day of peace. Furthermore, they worked in collaboration with public high school students to film and edit a series of Public Service Announcements to advertise the citywide day of peace event.

- [Female] These people lost their lives just blocks away from our school.

- One of those dots could be my father.

- Those dots could be my little sister.

- One of those dots could be me.

- I think this is the amazing thing about learning expeditions, is that when you engage students in work that means something to them, then the idea of perseverance and that grip that we’re all talking about is inherent, they want it.

- When we started our Peacekeeper Project, we thought we were going to change our city. But what we really did was change ourselves. Help us create a space where students, teachers, and community members can spread the word, inspire one another, and support the hard work of creating change. Please join us, and be the people. Thank you.

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