The Use-Value of Real-World Projects: Children and Local Experts Connecting Through School Work

Alison Rheingold, Jayson Seaman


In this paper we discuss how the products of student work during long-term, interdisciplinary curricular units at King Middle School, a grades 6-8 public school in Portland, Maine, through their aesthetic qualities, transformed people’s understanding of what children were capable of. We argue that, to effectively understand student work of this type, ‘cognitive’ and ‘practical’ criteria for evaluation – i.e., as a supposed indicator of what students need to know and be able to do – fail to convey the actual, substantive value of the work, rendering it relatively static and meaningless like much conventional schoolwork. Instead, we argue that aesthetic criteria can help to adequately understand and assess community-based, project work. Moreover, focusing only on student learning throughout the production process occludes the importance of collaboration, communication, and dialogue with an audience: in this case, community experts whose goals and interests must be accommodated as students do their work. The aim of the article is twofold: 1) to present a coherent picture of student project work that adequately captures its complexity both in the process of its production, and in its use-value upon completion; and 2) to argue for the importance of aesthetic criteria in planning and assessing student projects.


use-value; community-based education; boundary objects; boundary crossings; aesthetics

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Copyright (c) 2017 Alison Rheingold, Jayson Seaman

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