By Kristine Tesoriero
October 13, 2015 started off like any other day at ISB. Students arrived, as they always do, eager and excited to learn. Meanwhile, teachers put their final touches on their lesson plans for the day. In the middle school, students gathered in their homerooms and were greeted by their mentoring teachers. Attendance was taken and the announcements were read.
Everything seemed normal, until there was an interruption. An announcement was made to all seventh grade students that there had been an earthquake. Next, students were directed to evacuate the building and board buses that would bring them to safety. Confusion and worry filled the buses as the students were transported to a camp. What had happened to their families and friends? Were they the only survivors? What had happened to their communities and homes? How would they survive? Who would lead them?
October 13, 2015 was the launch to an integrated project, called “The Phoenix Project”. The projects spans the duration of the second quarter and integrates 7th Grade Math, Science, and Humanities classes.
The Phoenix Project begins with a simulation that serves as an authentic launch to ignite curiosity and connect students to the theme of the project. Students feel motivated to invest their time and energy into the project because they experience something that feels real to them. This entry event leaves students pondering the driving question for the integrated project:
“How can we, as members of a society, solve the problem of feeding our population?”
Students are not the only ones pondering big and open-ended driving questions. 21st century educators are always considering questions such as the following:
“How can we best prepare our students for an unpredictable future?”
We know that we need to provide our students with challenging problems that allow them to collaborate and apply their knowledge and skills. So how can we, as teams of teachers, provide these opportunities for our students?
Many teachers are finding that integrated projects lead to deeper understanding of the content and skills that our standards are calling for, while providing a real world context that connects learning across the curriculum. Integrated projects require teachers to share the responsibility of meeting the rigorous standards. For example, literacy skills are promoted in Math and Science, not just Humanities. Likewise, research and data from Science and Math are incorporated in Humanities as students read and write non-fiction. The skills are interrelated, just as they are in the real world. According to David Sousa and his work on how the brain learns, “Neuroscientists concur that memory and understanding are increased in direct proportion to the number of connections students make with the information, and the significance they attach to it” (1995). Teachers can facilitate this process by designing integrated projects that promote cross-disciplinary connections and personal significance for our learners. The Phoenix Project is a great example of this.
So, how are our teachers making this all happen?
The grade seven teachers will tell you that the most important aspect of creating an integrated project is the planning process. Teachers begin planning for the project together, as a collaborative team. Each subject area examines the standards (Common Core, NGSS, and C3) to find commonalities across the disciplines. They brainstorm and agree to common assessments that are aligned to the standards and create a driving question that could be answered independently in each class, as well as collectively as students work toward an end goal (the exhibition). The driving question is drawn from the real world and inspires students to solve a compelling problem of social significance.
Students move through the unit addressing this question from multiple perspectives in each class. Topics such as turning food into fuel, structures and functions of government, and geometry once seemed completely disconnected as students moved from class to class. Imagine the discoveries and layers of knowledge that our students uncover as they explore these topics while creating products that will attempt to answer one unifying question at the final exhibition event.
The Phoenix Project is one example of how innovative teachers are working together to meet the demands of rigorous standards and to prepare students with L21 skills. We look forward to seeing how the grade seven students apply their knowledge and skills at The Phoenix Project Exhibition in December!
Sousa, D. (1995). How the brain learns. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.