This week, Cape Henry Middle School students have been immersed in the world of Project-based learning. Project-based learning is a “dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups." Our Middle Schoolers are practicing 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, developing organizational and research skills, and designing authentic products and presentations for each topic.
Over the course of four days, Middle School students have explored topics of interest through hand-on activities, film study, interaction with field experts both on and off campus, Internet research, and classroom learning. They have been challenged to use their knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking skills to respond to real world problems.
The theme of Grade 6's Winterim, "Under the Volcano," transformed students into archaeologists as they designed and explored a manufactured archaeological dig site set in the remains of Mt. Vesuvius. Through activities such as dig site creation and gridding, mosaic design, researching of historic volcanoes, and mapping volcanic activity worldwide, students learned the importance of archaeological evidence as it relates to the study of ancient cultures based on material remains.
Grade 6 students used real archaeological tools during their "dig" in the classroom Mt. Vesuvius, learned math skills through their grid drawing, honed in on their art skills by creating mosaics, and brushed up on their geography by studying a world map and the Ring of Fire. A Webquest rounded out the project with a science lesson on volcanoes. Students took notes throughout the session for their final piece of reflective writing at the conclusion of the week.
Grade 7 studied "Food, Culture, and Healthy Choices." Students participated in a variety of activities designed to raise their consciousness about how lifestyle, media, and economics impact decisions regarding food. They developed a greater understanding about where our food comes from and the nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet in an effort to help them become informed consumers and healthy advocates in our culture.
After watching a video about food in French culture, students learned to make crepes. Later, they studied what other countries eat and how much it costs them per week. Students then compared the food culture to our food culture and nutritional guidelines.
One group toured the Cape Henry cafeteria to learn more about what students eat each day. Reece Fowler said it was very interesting learning if our lunch room choices are organic and local. His group put together an "Eat This, Not That" book to highlight healthy lunch choices. Reece notes, "I learned I should choose a burger over fries for lunch. The burger has protein, less sodium, and less fat than the fries. Before this project, I hadn't thought about that before. Now that I know, I'm going to watch what I eat."
Cate Woodward's group fit in some exercise to learn how much we need to exercise to burn off what we eat each day. "We took two laps around the perimeter of the school, measured our distance, and determined the length of our strides by counting our steps," Cate explains.
Finally, Grade 8 was busy "Paying it Forward." Students had the opportunity to develop their service and leadership skills through partnership with local organizations that address specific needs within the Hampton Roads area. Following an in-depth study of the area of need and the mission of the organization, students designed a product for each organization and presented their product designs to the organizations’ leaders for assessment and feedback.
Each group designed a service project for the assigned organization: Different groups worked with the SPCA, W. T. Cooke Elementary School, and The Memory Center.
After visiting The Memory Center, a group of students made puzzles for Alzheimer's patients at each stage of the disease. Later, using iMovie, they created documentaries of their experiences at The Memory Center and the influence of Alzheimer's on their lives.
The group that partnered with the SPCA toured the facility, created homemade animal toys and dog treats, and created an SPCA volunteer handbook. After learning to storyboard for movie creation, they finished their projects with SPCA commercials.
"It feels good to actually be helping a local organization as we learn different skills," says Anna Xystros.
"We got hands-on experience seeing what the SPCA needs, and we're teaching others that the SPCA is not all about the dogs. The dogs are adopted the most, but a lot of people forget that there are other animals like cats and guinea pigs that also need homes. Our project taught us about the SPCA, and with our project, we get to teach everyone else," explains Fletcher Travelstead.
Lane Limroth and Hannah Bradley worked in the group assigned to W. T. Cooke Elementary School. After visiting with the school's after-school program, the students decided to organize a school supply drive. They are hoping to collect food and clothes for the W. T. Cooke students, as well. "It was really eye-opening to interact with the kids," says Lane. "It really opened our eyes to the need for community service in our area," adds Hannah.
Clark Berlin's group is going above and beyond the call of duty for the Winterim project. These students plan to organize volunteers to cook meals, play basketball, and entertain the children one Thursday each month.
The Middle School Winterim project-based learning has challenged our Middle School students to use their knowledge and skills across the disciplines to successfully participate in their assigned activities. The enthusiastic response from each group truly proves the effectiveness of our Winterim initiative.