Mar. 13—Boulder Valley middle schoolers are building infographics to tell stories about the pandemic in their math class and creating tools to teach others how to spot misinformation in language arts.
High school students are designing habitats for the moon, Mars and outer space that include places where people could isolate during an outbreak. Elementary students are using writing, art and videos to reflect their experiences.
Their work is part of Boulder Valley's first communitywide, project-based learning opportunity, dubbed "Perspectives 2020: Telling the Stories of the Community." Through their work, students are asked to answer a common question: "In what ways did people experience 2020 differently, and what does this teach us?"
"We're living in this really amazing time where we are sort of living history," said Kiffany Lychock, Boulder Valley instructional practices director for the northwest network. "We want to give students a chance to tell their own story and process what they have experienced."
Units for different grade levels were designed by a team of eight teachers, who started meeting in early December. Teachers are encouraged to use or adapt the lessons the team designed, while students are invited to tackle a project on their own, outside of school, using a district toolkit.
After completion, students can submit their work for a learning exhibition and virtual museum that's planned for the fall. The district also is looking at options for in-person public displays so students can share performance-based projects.
The idea originated with a recommendation from an advisory group that worked in the fall to develop more in-person options and ideas to engage students after the district started the school year remotely. The district defines project-based learning as solving a real world problem or answering a complex question, then demonstrating their knowledge by creating a public product.
Centennial eighth grade teacher Katie Miles and sixth grade math teacher Sophie Ramus developed the middle school units as part of the teacher design team.
In math, Ramus is asking students to mathematically tell a story. They need to answer a data question that interests them about the pandemic or other events of the past year and use the data to create an infographic. There's a also a writing component.
In language arts, Miles asked students to create a teaching tool to help an audience use the information literacy skills they learned. She was inspired by the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6, using that as a starting point to talk about differing perspectives, identifying disinformation, fact-checking and conspiracy theories.
BOULDER, CO — March 10:Eighth Graders ...On a recent day, students revised their group projects based on classmate feedback, some working together online, some in person and some joining in-person groups remotely from home.
"They're just so excited and flexible about making this work," she said. "Once the project is set up, it frees me up. I can be shoulder to shoulder with them as a learner and a coach. I can really connect with them."
As she listened to a group laugh and joke in the hall through multiple takes filming a new version of their video PSA, she said she's loved seeing them have fun with school again.
"It's been so hard to watch their lack of motivation," she said. "Nobody wants to do a grammar lesson by yourself at home in your room. If you can really put them in charge of the learning, you get better engagement. They actually want to be here."
Eighth grader Cora Lilly's group created an infographic on lateral reading, a technique used to evaluate information sources, for younger students.
"We made this for elementary students and young teens, so they start off strong," she said. "This project is a good way to continue your thinking. Teaching it to someone else, now I have a better understanding of it."
Three elementary teachers — Eldorado PK-8's Francesca Gettelman, University Hill's Sara Nelson and Whittier's Lauren Rubini — created a perspective unit for K-2 students that incorporates language arts, math and science.
Gettelman and her first grade teaching partner, Tanya Gessner, started their project by using books to teach students about how people can experience events differently. Then they encouraged them to share their feelings and memories, starting when schools closed a year ago.
"It's a lot of reflections," Gessner said. "They're enjoying the opportunity to talk and really work through what they've experienced. This is giving the kids a voice in what has been happening in their lives."
For the first part of the project, they took a photo of each student and will create a mural that combines the photos with written and audio pieces. For the second half, students will create something to reflect their experiences — options include a piece of art, a song or an infographic.
"We don't have a lot of constraints on what they can create," Gettelman said.
For grades 3 though 5, Monarch PK-8 teachers Cliff Roberts and Alexis Graham developed a unit on creating an oral history of 2020, with students choosing to create a video or podcast. Many have finished their projects, which are available to view at tinyurl.com/32busnku.
At the high school level, Boulder Technical Education Center construction teacher Michael Bautista developed the space habitat project based on a unit he started teaching last school year. The lessons include multiple speakers, including Colorado School of Mines' Space Resources Program Director Angel Abbud-Madrid. Former astronaut James Voss is scheduled to evaluate the projects and talk to students at the end of the unit.
"It gets them to think," Bautista said.
Teacher Michael Bautista talks to students about a space habitat project at a Boulder TEC class in Boulder on March 9. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)Students start by researching the history of the space program, material options and resources and conditions in space. Will they bring materials or manufacture them? Set up a 3D printer in space or use robots? Recycle the "space junk" circling the Earth?
Once the research is complete, they will design the habitats using the Sketch Up Pro software program.
Bautista said he plans to continue expanding the project in future years, with a goal of adding more community partnerships and 3D modeling component.
One of his students, Broomfield High junior Jake Seidel, said it was the real-world learning projects that drew him to the construction program.
"This project is cool," he said. "It really shows us the construction industry will keep expanding, even to space."