From Maps to Mosaics . . . to Solutions in Principia Middle School

In this globalized, high-tech world—where existing information is rapidly superseded by new “facts”—high school graduates face exciting opportunities and unforeseen challenges.

“We cannot solve problems that are coming up in the world through one lens,” says Principia School’s Dean of Innovation and Academics Peter Dry. “We need to be able to look at and grapple with challenges through multiple perspectives. . . . A multidisciplinary approach is essential.”

The Integrated Studies classes at Principia Middle School are demonstrating the value of such an approach. Sessions engage students in project-centered learning and performance-based tasks to develop a problem-solving mindset and skills. Students are learning to collect and analyze information and data; prepare and deliver reports and presentations; create maps, models, and artful mosaics; and present rationales for proposed solutions.

Teachers employ the “See, Think, Wonder” approach—What do you see? What do you think about it? What does it make you wonder about? “There’s lots of collaboration, problem solving, making presentations, journaling, and reflection,” says teacher Sam Dry. “The students are learning to be critical thinkers and not just regurgitate information.”

Activities challenge the students to grow in competence as well as character, functioning as responsible members of a team:

• Sixth graders created a large four-panel mosaic that depicts Principia School’s Community Commitment (“Strive, Conquer, Love, Give”).

• Seventh graders studied waste and pollution around the world, then focused on campus, creating 3-D maps, models, and video clips.

• Eighth graders grappled with technological advancement, and debated issues such as cloning and artificial intelligence.

In reflecting on the experience, one student commented: “It taught me not to argue [but] to take in every idea gratefully. It helped me to be careful—and to check over my work for mistakes. My group helped me grow so much.”

Does your school do something similar?

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