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BFTP: The franchise dilemma 

I love it when teachers describe with great rapture successful projects they've done with their kids. I remember this one very well from a number of years ago.

A high school social studies teacher from a small town school asked teams of his students to research the history of downtown buildings in their area - when they were built, who were the owners, and what businesses had occupied the buildings. The product of the research was a series of articles that appeared in the local newspaper that proved very popular with the readers. The teacher, the kids, and the community all loved this project.

Cool, I thought. Let's try this in Mankato. But when I suggested it to our social studies teachers there was very little excitement and the one teacher who did try the assignment felt it was a dud.

This is a common occurrence - teachers who hear about a project or assignment that was hugely successful described in a journal or at a conference session that then falls flat when attempted back home. It's what I call the "franchise dilemma." Here's what I mean:

There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful restaurants in communities around the world but there are relatively few successful restaurant franchises. And frachised restaurants' food doesn't usually rise to the level of quality of the hometown fare. (The local Italian bistro vs. Olive Garden, for example.) Why?

It's because while franchises can copy the decor, the menus, the recipes, and other elements of the original, the clones cannot copy the passion of the owner of the first restaurant - his or her creativity, awareness of the local community, and personal realtionship with customers. It is the very uniqueness of the restaurant that makes it a successful place.

In the example above, the teacher had a passion for local history, knew his community, and had a relationship with the local press. Sources of local information (county records office and historical society) were cooperative. The administration supported this community-based project. While not a unique set of circumstances, it was perhaps a rare set. 

So does sharing experiences have any value? Yes, but only if we don't look at them as blueprints. Instead we should be analyzing the elements that made the project successful and then see if these elements can be applied to our own subject, students, schools AND personal passions.

The elements I saw in the building history project above included:

  • Relavance built because of local connections
  • Primary data supporting research
  • Community involvement
  • Group work
  • Publishing for the public of results

Each of these elements can be applied to any subject, at any grade level, at any school. 

Avoid the franchise dilemma by looking for the fundamental reasons the projects of others are successful rather than trying to duplicate them. Remember the importance of your own passion for the work!

Original post January 25, 2013

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Reader Comments (1)

Great post! Helps me realize why I seem to spend so much time changing most of the project ideas I read about. If I am not excited about it, how can I expect the students to be?

February 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

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