Dragon Days ignite a spark in middle school
Spend time with most middle school students and you'll quickly realize: they never stop moving. Learning by doing is an effective way to engage a middle-school mind and the recent Dragon Days, a special group learning project for grades 7 & 8, started off the year with a great example of active, collaborative learning. As coordinator and English teacher Cari Barbour explained: "middle school is the ideal place to try out something like this -- they are full of energy, spirit and are willing to take risks."
Building on the success of last year's inaugural start of year project-based learning exercise, "Project One School," the middle school team of teachers wanted to "broaden what students could imagine and produce," according to Barbour. The Dragon Days academic focus this year concentrated on three MYP Approaches to Learning: collaboration, critical thinking and creative thinking. Gathered in teams of mixed grades, students were given four provocations to choose from -- a question to answer, a problem to solve, a concern to address, or a challenge to overcome. To further give their creativity direction and structure, each team also aligned with a specific role, using the YIS website as inspiration: helper, competitor, explorer, creator, artist or performer. With these boundaries in place, students were invited to "ignite the spark" of their ideas with a clear goal in mind, the September 13th "Fire Fair," a gallery showcasing their group responses to the provocations.Says Maia, grade 8, "It was nice to bring to life an idea we all thought was cool and a good way to bring the school together." Maia's group created a colorful mural with a hodge-podge of artistic contributions from across the school, centered around a dragon and bordered by flags from around the world to showcase YIS diversity. In a different group, grade 8 student Joshua and his retro-fan collaborators developed an original sporting activity called "Mr. Ed's Dodgeball." Joshua notes: "I got to know people from 7th grade, and I'm new to the school so it was a great chance to meet lots of people and interact with them. Collaboration was most important for our group. We listened to everyone's ideas and worked together."
Teachers collaborated to insure the students were given the tools to succeed, providing mini-lectures on brainstorming, how to work as a team, tips on following a design cycle, and how to create (and follow!) an action plan. Says Barbour, "for me, one of the most rewarding parts of the project is not knowing how it is going to turn out! We challenged students to dream big. So much of this project was centered around creative thinking--generating new ideas, modifying existing ideas, and addressing authentic problems. It was also excellent to see students using their critical thinking skills to examine a variety of potential solutions to problems they had identified, to move forward with those ideas, and to continue to evaluate them as they made their way through the process."
"In the bigger picture, this sort of inquiry builds on what students work on in Grade 5 Exhibition and is also a good introduction to the Personal Project, which they begin in Grade 9." Adds Kiya, grade 7, "We all cooperated and all our team took part to make this possible. It was really fun."