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Skeptical Partners Develop Strong Bond

Educators Connect Learning across Disciplines and Develop a Rich Partnership in the Process.

In creating a video project for teens, a museum and writing group discovered shared philosophies about learning.

Start with a science concept, build a story, create a short film—that was the challenge put to Pittsburgh-area teens by the Carnegie Science Center and the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project. The hitch: they had to do it in one day.

Sixteen teens took the “Smash Jam” challenge. They visited the science center to see what artifact or exhibit piqued their interest. On a Saturday morning at the science center, they got started. By the end of the day, they had scripted a story, plotted the shooting strategy, shot a video, and edited it for a final showing later that weekend. In one day, they dove deep into science and put their literary chops to the test in writing and creating a video.

The Smash Jam Video Design Workshop was the brainchild of the Carnegie Science Center and the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project, who had joined forces under the Intersections project to explore how to collaborate to connect learning across disciplines.

“It is our hope that by creating narratives using digital video technology, we are providing opportunities for learning new skills and knowledge in a dynamic new way,” said Alana Kulesa, the science center’s director of strategic education initiatives, in a press release about the project.

However, the well-oiled Saturday workshop for the teens belied a partnership that started out with serious hesitation on both parts. Disciplines as diverse as science and writing rarely offer the opportunity to collaborate, and when people in these fields do work together, they often are not sure where to even begin.

“Who were these other folks?” one of the team members wrote in their final report on the project, reflecting on their first meetings as a group. “Why did they not see literacy, science, technology, and teachers exactly as we did? What could we do together that we might not be able to do separately?”

“By working together, we are finding that new doors sometimes open and some brilliant new ways of achieving our higher aims emerge.”

But with time, and by reaching a shared agreement on what “writing” and “science learning” really are, they formed a unique bond over the course of two years.

“We shared a general belief that communicating scientific knowledge was as important for students, their teachers, and museum educators as making new breakthroughs in scientific thought,” they wrote.

The Smash Jam Workshop concluded its first year with a mini film festival of all the videos created. The next year, the team developed three digital video workshops, providing opportunities for youth to review and redo their work. They also developed tools for collecting data on how the teens understand the science embedded in their video products.

The partnership has grown beyond the workshops into a rich and ongoing collaboration. The partners have expanded the program’s visibility and strengthened its staying power by developing a summer camp for local Pittsburgh teens.

“But perhaps most significant to us,” the team members wrote, “whenever we partners meet, the main topic of conversation is, How can we keep working together?” An ongoing partnership is crucial because, they wrote, by “working together, we are finding that new doors sometimes opened and some brilliant new ways of achieving our higher aims emerged.”

Watch Smash Jam