Eight Grade Projects Inspire Students to Pursue Passions

At the Middle School, the Eighth Grade Project encapsulates Community School’s emphasis on self-directed, individualized learning. “I can’t think of a better example of a project connecting to the school’s second guiding principle* than this one,” said Sam Herrick, Middle School Head. Eighth Grade Projects challenge students to live, write, and teach about a topic of their choosing and encompass most of the winter term.

The work challenges students in many ways. Eighth grade team teacher Naomi Goldberg explained, “Part of the Project is writing a fairly traditional research paper that includes really vetting sources and citing sources—skills they will need for academic success in high school. But the project also pushes them in other ways. For the ‘live’ portion of the assignment, students are asked to reach out to experts in the field they are studying or someone with relevant experience to their topic. This can be very hard for eighth graders, but we believe that learning how to make these connections is a critical skill. We then ask them to ‘teach’ their topic to others. This incorporates public speaking, clear communication, and finding different ways to illustrate knowledge. The combination of elements in the project offers students with different learning styles and interests almost limitless ways to showcase their passions, their strengths, and their learning.”

This year’s eighth grade class shared projects on a broad range of topics. Priya Merchant chose to learn sign language and connect with students from the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. Walker Spoor examined saltwater fishing, with an emphasis on the environmental cost of overfishing. “I grew up saltwater fishing,” he explained. “But even in my family’s own experience, I could see that fish were in danger. I wanted to share this science with my classmates and others.” The opioid crisis, monotheistic religions, the stock market, space exploration, and rap culture also consumed eighth graders thoughts this winter.

“At this juncture in their development, Middle Schoolers are asked to think long and hard about what matters to them, what they are passionate about,” Sam said. “They then have to translate this interest into term-long endeavor of discovery culminating in a presentation in front of peers, faculty, family, and friends. Part of what we do in Middle School is expose students to many topics and help them discover what they care about. This is a great opportunity to do so. It is a contemporary, real-time exercise.”

This is an excerpt from the "The CS Difference," an article in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of CS Magazine describing differentiators in teaching and learning across Community School's PK-12 curriculum.