Integrated Studies Projects End Year on Energizing Note

For Middle School students, the school year doesn’t close with final exams, but instead concludes with grade-level interdisciplinary Integrated Studies projects that thrust students’ learning off the page and into real life. This intentional ending builds on the foundational knowledge students have acquired throughout the year and challenges them to put it into practice. From time management to data collection strategies, students utilize the arsenal of skills they’ve honed and apply them with dexterity to grapple with complex, real-world challenges.
Grade 5 students develop an awareness of environmental issues and the role they can play in keeping the planet clean in the Ellis Earthkeeping Experience. Students explore the basic tenets of environmental sustainability—becoming more green and less wasteful—firsthand through current events, guest speakers, and field trips to a water treatment facility, coal mine, and local landfill. Working in teams, girls then take on the persona of clean energy business executives to research energy sources and present their findings to their classmates. This crash course in environmental sustainability not only fosters a sense of personal responsibility and agency, but doubles as an opportunity for girls to hone their research, collaboration, and communication skills.

In grade 6, students weave together their studies in art, science, history, and literature in the Medieval Faire, a two-day immersive experience that launches students back in time to the Middle Ages. Students engage in multiple learning modalities—kinetic, visual, auditory, and tactile—while role-playing in a jousting competition, building catapults, and experiencing a full-fledged Medieval Feast complete with noblewomen and peasants. These activities deepen students’ historical thinking skills and understanding of a time period and culture very different from their own, while challenging them to analyze and consider issues and ideas in a multidisciplinary way.

Grade 7 students forge local and global connections to their ancestors and neighbors in their year-end Global Pittsburgh project. This exploration of Pittsburgh’s communities challenges students to investigate Jewish, Asian, Eastern European, Italian, and Latinx immigration histories and make connections to their own lives. Students visit exhibitions at the Heinz History Center, meet with a refugee caseworker and equity educator, and attend a naturalization ceremony to build their awareness of the rich cultural history rooted in their hometown. As a result, students’ ownership of their identities and family stories blossoms as they voice their findings in final group presentations and discuss commonalities across cultures.

The grade 8 Integrated Studies project challenges students to tackle a challenging goal—to develop and deliver a prototype of an electric gear-driven toy that meets the needs of potential end users. Over the course of just four days, students employ design thinking as they listen to the needs of the users, tinker with gear ratios and design elements, draft proposals, and pitch their prototypes to a panel of judges. This rich, deep-dive assignment teaches students to work nimbly and creatively to solve a complex problem, manage significant team tasks under a real deadline, and present their ideas in concise and compelling ways.

As a culminating experience, Middle School Integrated Studies projects send girls into summer break energized and excited about their abilities as learners and people who can make a difference in the world. A powerful way to “cap” the school year, these year-end projects leave students with increased confidence that—with creativity, effort, and teamwork—they can succeed in solving challenging real-world problems.
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