A Collaborative Social-Emotional Learning Lesson in Fourth Grade

At the end of the first semester, fourth-grade Rams experienced an important, multi-subject, social-emotional learning lesson that left a lasting impression. The lesson, entitled “Imprints” and inspired by the Metro Theater play Digging Up Dessa by Laura Schellhardt, combined drama, art, writing, and science while covering such topics as sound design, respect, grief, and printmaking.

For an overview of the play, here is the production description as shared on the Metro Theater Company website:

Dessa is a modern-day, 12-year-old with no shortage of mysteries to solve and fossils to find. Her days are filled with buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. But when her family of three unexpectedly becomes a family of two, this smart, funny young scientist struggles to overcome her grief and anger at all the changes in her world. Dessa’s unlikely comfort comes from a remarkable new friend, one only she can see and hear—Mary Anning, the 19th-century paleontologist who discovered a breakthrough dinosaur fossil at the age of 12 and became a pioneer in her field. But why is her portrait not on the museum wall alongside those of her male counterparts? Dessa decides that she’s going to fight to earn Mary the respect she deserves. With help from her new classmate and once-rival, Nilo, Dessa unearths secrets of the past and present—for Mary’s legacy and her own way forward.

Before viewing the play virtually, Missy Heinemann, Lower & Middle School Drama Teacher, shared slides that provided more details about Metro Theater Company, the Grandel Theater, and the production. As the students watched the play in drama class, they completed a scavenger hunt that encouraged them to actively listen, view, and engage with the production. Following the performance, they began a unit on sound design. “This was a passion of one of the characters featured in Digging Up Dessa,” said Heinemann. “One of the educational tools provided by Metro Theater Company was a short video on sound design, featuring their own in-house sound designer, Rusty Wandall.”

Students then created some of their own sound design masterworks with nursery rhymes. View the example below of some of our fourth graders adding sound effects to their renditions of Hickory Dickory Dock and Humpty Dumpty.

Student Sound Design Example

In science, students focused on one of the themes from the play which was the importance of recognizing female scientists. In class with Lower School Science Teacher Laura Pupillo, they paired up and chose female scientists to research before crafting mini-biographies. Here is a gallery of the students conducting and presenting their research.

Researching Female Scientists

Next, during their weekly social-emotional learning lesson with Lower and Middle School Counselor Susie McGaughey, fourth-graders discussed how some people and experiences, much like fossils, can leave lasting imprints on us that we carry around inside as they live on in our hearts. Students shared stories with one another and used a printmaking process to imagine what that special imprint might look like if it could be seen or discovered by others. Here are their imprints which currently hang in the Lower School specialist hallway.

Imprints Created by Printmaking Process


“Brynn has made an imprint on me,” said Ally. “We met in second grade and she moved in third grade. We were both new and we were best friends while we were together. We still keep in touch and we are best friends.”

“My grandma has made an imprint on me,” said Parker D. “Ever since I remember, I have loved cooking and I would always cook with my grandma. We cooked cupcakes, cake, muffins, eggs, bacon, toast, etc. Now I love cooking.”

What an intentional, purposeful lesson for students to carry with them in their hearts throughout life! As McGaughey said, “Some people and experiences in our lives leave imprints. They may stay or go…but they are always there in your heart because they helped form your heart.”