News from Synergy School
In previous years, both teachers and students have noticed a social unfamiliarity between kids in the younger and older grades. Dominic Altieri, the middle school history teacher, discovered a way to close this gap. For the past two years, he has had the middle schoolers create two different types of interactive projects that, upon completion, were presented and given to the kindergarten class. “Our main goal is getting the older kids interacting with the younger kids,” Dominic says. He remembers doing an interactive children’s book project himself as an eighth grader. “Our second goal is to get students design thinking and making educational products like games and books for a specific age group – making that connection. Instead of just simply learning about the Civil War or the Middle Ages, they used fun, creative thinking to expand their knowledge on the topic and learn how to connect with younger kids.” These projects have opened a level of communication, ease, and familiarity between the two age groups that wasn’t there before.
Last year, the middle school classes took on the task of creating a children’s book that took place during the Middle Ages, the era they focused on that semester. The middle schoolers not only created funny, magical stories that had a kindergartner as a main character, they also incorporated fun facts about that era. The students were split up into around twenty-four groups, and each group was introduced to a kindergartner that they had to focus the story around. For around three months they worked hard on drawing colorful pictures, writing creative narratives, and interacting with their kindergartener. When the middle schoolers had their finished project, they read their story out loud to their younger friends. It was a big hit!
This year, the middle school block classes worked on creating a history inspired game project that the kids in kindergarten could play. Once split into various groups, the students brainstormed some designs and based their games off of topics ranging from the American Revolution all the way to Westward Expansion and Native American removal (however, for obvious reasons, they avoided including harsh topics in their finished products). After their topics were chosen, the kindergarteners came up to the history classroom to play some classic board games with the middle schoolers. This allowed the middle schoolers to better understand the younger kids’ style of playing and see what their interests revolved around.
Many groups were inspired by several different types of games. The final products included styles such as matching games, board games, and one group even made a Guess Who inspired game. Some of the board games were influenced by already existing games, such as the computer game Oregon Trail, Monopoly, Life, and Candy Land. Others were designed to highlight leaders in history that are underrepresented, such as women, African Americans, and Native Americans. The students had access to game boards, cards, pieces, and spinners that looked as though they were from professionally made games. “When we were kids, we got to make games and stuff, but we never got to do it with the right resources,” Ian Doyle, an eighth grader, recalls. “It was nice to have something that actually looked like a real game, and I think it really helped step up the experience for the kindergarteners.” Thank you Bare Books for allowing the middle schoolers to enjoy decorating their own games on real game boards and cards!
For two months, the students worked hard on their games. We’re happy to say that the hard work paid off in the end. “Sometimes it got a little boring for us,” sixth grader Sasha Hopewell says, “But sitting there and watching the kindergarteners play our games, having the times of their lives, made it all worth it.” Although creating a high quality, informative, fun game did take a lot of perseverance, when the games were finished, most students were proud of how their game turned out. The middle schoolers introduced their games to the younger kids and then played them together. “It was so interesting to see kids make connections and understand the facts on our board while still having fun! It was a very fun experience, and I actually made some friends,” sixth grader Jessica Schott says. Not only the middle schoolers had fun, though. When asked, all of the kindergarteners said that they had fun playing the middle schoolers’ games too! “I really, really liked the card games,” Kindergartener Tabitha exclaimed, “I learned new presidents like George Washington and… Martin Luther King Jr.!” Although some – not surprisingly – didn’t pay any attention to the educational aspect of the game, all kindergarteners loved the social aspect and the game itself. The day was full of laughter, high fives, and fun times.
“I don’t think every middle schooler is now going to go out and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go and hang out with the kindergarteners?’” Eighth grader Ian Doyle said. “However, I do believe that there is definitely a stronger connection between the two age groups.” Many middle schoolers, when asked, said that they now say hi to the kindergarteners on the school yard, and many know each other by name. Ollie, a kindergartener, said that even though he didn’t instantly become friends with any older kids when he ventured upstairs to play the games, he felt more comfortable around the middle schoolers afterward.
Dominic plans on continuing these interactive projects in a three year rotation, so no middle schooler repeats a project. The third project? It’s still under consideration, however he is toying with the idea of having a living museum/costume project. Asked to describe his plans for maintaining this newfound interaction between grades, Dominic said, “I want this to be a legacy project, where in just a matter of years, the very first children’s book people will be up here and will remember back to when someone did it with them.”
–by Tomi and Nabila, Synergy Middle School students
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