Collaborating to Explore Connections

“I think this poop is from a Viking!”

“I think you’re right. Look at all the fish bones.”

“Can I take it home?”

These words, spoken by Ellis fifth graders as they used their interdisciplinary CoLab period to explore archeology, history, math, and science during an analysis of (fake) historical excrement to determine its origin, highlight the unique beauty of learning as a community at Ellis.
Research tells us that girls learn best when they see real-world application in the content they’re covering, when they collaborate with their peers in meaningful ways, when they experience firsthand the concepts they’re investigating, and when they have choice in what they want to learn more about and how they wish to express their understanding. Case in point, the fifth grade team could have simply told students about the common diet of Vikings. It would have taken a fraction of the time, but it also wouldn’t have made any sort of lasting impact, and it certainly wouldn’t have incorporated all of the different disciplines, modalities, and connections that the poo investigation did. You have not seen joy in scientific discovery until you’ve seen a room full of ten-year-olds measuring, weighing, and comparing their specimens, giggling the entire time. 

But it’s not just the novelty of this type of assignment that makes it effective. It’s the experience of problem-solving and discovering together that makes each lesson feel personal and relevant. By working in highly collaborative environments, students learn about and from one another, helping them grow into more empathetic, understanding, and well-rounded individuals. As we prepare this next generation of leaders to enter a truly globalized world, it’s essential that students have the competency and practice to appreciate and learn from those with differing backgrounds, beliefs, and skill-levels. While examining seed remnants in stool may not be a particularly groundbreaking topic, the interpersonal skills our fifth graders practiced as they compared findings, questioned each other’s conclusions, and helped each other navigate new equipment, as well as the bonds they formed with one another throughout the process, laid the foundation for more challenging work in the future.

So, whether it’s investigating historical artifacts during CoLab time, going on a school-wide scavenger hunt in teams to learn about the parts of a cell, working together in Houses to research influential women of Pittsburgh, or creating a literal puzzle to represent the eighth grade class, Ellis students are collaborating to explore real-world connections every day. This intentional design fosters the strength of each individual student, who together make up our network of engaged, curious, and empathetic learners.