Student Learning Empowered By Choice (From the Head of Middle School)

While making my rounds through the classrooms last week, a group of 6th grade students, without any prompting, excitedly shared their newly completed science project. This was a clear indication to me that the Human Systems project, a combined research, science and art unit, had met our student engagement standards!

Science teacher Tony McClellan, with support from librarian Anne Krive and visual arts teacher Dominique Avila, had clearly done a great job guiding the students in developing their knowledge, overall interest, and presentation skills. In their art classes, they reviewed what makes a good visual, how to tell a story effectively and were challenged to create a fun way to represent their system. In this way, different learners could find success using their emerging skills in their research, presentation skills, or artistic ability.

The key to this project was clearly “choice.” Students could decide their area to study, and each had their own reasons for those choices. One student selected the reproductive system, saying, “I had learned some in 5th grade, but really wanted to know more”. Another student chose the skeletal system, hoping to learn enough to convince his parents to purchase a full-scale model for him! The aspect of choice empowered these students.

To learn more, I was treated to three separate presentations about the respiratory, skeletal, and reproductive systems. With the requisite nervous pacing and stammering, students delivered, with moments of incredible confidence, detailed explanations about how their system was essential, how it functioned, how to keep it healthy, and how the system maintains homeostasis. The presentations engaged their classmates’ interests with carefully designed Google slides and creatively crafted artistic models. Some models were straightforward with clean lines on poster board; one was designed using rice krispies with fruit roll-ups representing the trachea.

Students were assessed on the presentation, the artistic representations, and command of the science with an analytic rubric which used “Picture of Health,” “In Good Health,” “Time to See the Doctor” and “Uh oh… is there a Pulse” levels. Their peers were supportive and laser-focused during presentations, asking unprompted questions like, “What did you learn that surprised you?”

This project represented the collaborative nature of our curriculum planning, which honored student choice, tapped into students’ emerging research, writing, presentation and artistic skills, and provided a safe way for students to demonstrate their new knowledge.

Jared Schott
Head of Middle School