How many 6th graders are putt-putt golf course designers, travel agents or how-to video experts? At MICDS, they all are! (Be sure to check out our video near the end.)
Each February, Middle School students stretch their imaginations and tackle what we call Passion Projects. Inspired by project-based learning, the program is designed to infuse students with energy while promoting responsibility, teamwork and problem-solving. This year, students chose between three projects and were given most of two school days to brainstorm, plan, design and create.
Putt-putt golf hole designers were challenged to design, draw and build one hole of a course using tools from the Maker Space. Students became familiar with using a variety of carpentry tools. They were given a budget and a list of supplies from which they could purchase. Their only limit was that each hole had to include at least two design elements to create additional challenges for the golfer. Morgan Withington said her favorite parts were using power tools and collaborating with her team to design their hole. “We had a lot of ideas in the beginning and we got a little carried away, but we actually used almost all our ideas,” she said.
Oliver Ashman learned about teamwork and the importance of making a plan before building. “For one part we didn’t really have a plan and it got a little messed up, so you really need to have a plan before you do something. But the most fun part was just building it!” Jackson Vetter learned a lot about creativity and collaboration, and said, “Brainstorming was the most fun part because we got to put all of our ideas together.”
Travel agents put together a website outlining their trip, complete with historical background, government structure, weather predictions, predominant religion and currency. They were challenged to ensure they could pay for airfare, lodging, meals and activities within a budget. Nina Bhayani explained that they could design trips based on whether they were sightseeing, visiting as an internet reviewer or traveling as a family. Nina and her partner Adithi Srinivasan planned a sightseeing trip to the Caribbean and Latin America. What was the hardest part? “Finding cheap flights,” she said. Most of us could probably relate to that!
Adithi said she had the most fun was making their travel website, and Nina enjoyed the freedom to be creative. She said, “We could literally go anywhere in the world, except for space, because there’s no hotel there.” Other travel agents explored areas around the world, including France, Greece, Monaco and Taiwan.
Zephan Harrell and Cam Noonan were able to explore being filmmakers by creating a how-to video on the basics of basketball. It was an easy choice, as they both enjoy playing. What they learned, though, went beyond passing and dribbling. “Having a plan was really important,” said Zephan. After their initial shoot, they realize they needed about two more minutes of film. “It was hard to find a place,” Zephan said. Cam added, “The MAC wasn’t open so we went to Beasley hoops.” They ran into sound issues as Lower Schoolers were enjoying recess. They finally managed to finish filming so they could complete their video. Their favorite part? “The dunks!” they exclaimed in unison.
Have you ever made a cake from scratch? Anna Giles and Brooke Bernstein created a video to show you how. They (with the help of a puppy sous chef) demonstrated how to make a three-layer chocolate cake, which looked easy and delicious. First, they showed all the necessary ingredients and gave the amounts required for each. Throughout the video, they offered helpful tips like using the mixer on low when blending dry ingredients and having a kitchen tool on hand to scrape ingredients off the side of the mixing bowl.
Cass Goldring and Trevyon Chatman wanted to create separate how-to videos but teamed up to help each other. Cass used his project as an excuse to get a long-desired bonsai tree and made a video to demonstrate how to trim it. He said, “The hardest part was creating the script. I didn’t want it to be too long but not too short, either.” Tre filmed for him, and then Cass helped record Tre’s video on how to be a great comedian. He also assisted by playing the role of narrator. Tre said, “Recording was the most fun. We learned something every time we failed.”
Cass said the project was surprising because “There’s always more stuff you can learn. I learned how to trim a bonsai tree but also how to write a script and how to film.”
After the projects were complete, students spent time presenting their travel websites and how-to videos to each other and playing on their new putt-putt course. They’ll reflect on what they learned through the process, and each student can request specific feedback from their teachers on one of the three learning objectives. Were they prepared and ready to work with their team, self-starting on tasks, and able to use feedback to improve their work? Did they help their team manage conflicts, give useful feedback to collaborators and offer to help when needed? Did they actively look for solutions and use appropriate questions to help clarify facts, concepts and relationships?
Hopefully, by the end of this multi-day program they’ll have made personal, relevant connections between what they’ve learned in the classroom and the reality of making their creative ideas come to life.