Gina Rocca, 6th Grade Teacher and BCIL Curriculum Innovator and Collaborator
Lower School students have the opportunity to be involved in various Service Learning projects throughout their time on the West Campus, but by the time they reach 6th Grade, students are challenged to develop a project from inception to finished product to share with the whole school. Alongside Lower School Service Learning Director Lisa Glick, the 6th graders this year devoted their attention to the environment and waste at our school. Sixth grader Tara D. states, "We felt like this was a prominent issue that needed solving."
Students spent several class periods doing research on environmental issues, particularly material waste such as paper, plastic, and food. What they found was that even with more recent trends toward recycling and reusing, there is still too much going into our landfills.
Inspired by the mission of the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership and with Pam Horrocks, Lower School Education Technology Specialist, the 6th graders decided to take this real-world challenge into their own hands—what can we do with all of the stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill?
Using the design thinking process as a guide, Ms. Horrocks developed an open-ended project that allowed the students to explore solutions beyond routine assignments. The students were encouraged to use creative problem solving and brave thinking to create a useful item that could be made out of found materials that might otherwise be thrown away. "At first I didn't know how I would get the project done." said Peter D. about his neck pillow. "I have never done something like this! In the end, I was proud of myself for making something I thought of myself."
Other projects included locker organizers, neck pillows, door mats, pencil cases, recess equipment, and more. Pam Horrocks reflected that she plans to do more of these kinds of assignments: "It was interesting to watch the thought process that the 6th Grade students went through to try to figure out what they wanted to make. Students are not often challenged with such open-ended directions, and it is a very difficult skill that I feel should start with students as young as Kindergarten. It is important for our students to learn to think critically, take risks, and become empowered, self-directed learners."