Teaching Youth to Engage the World

February 16, 2018
The Elkhart Truth

Sixth graders in the New Tech program at Goshen Middle School are learning to connect to the world around them.

“Last year was our first year doing New Tech and we talked over the summer about how we wanted to start teaching the kids empathy,” sixth grade New Tech teacher Heather Turner said of discussions with her teaching partner Karrie Goetz.

Their newest project-based learning activity brought employees of Lippert to the school to donate jeans for the culmination of their project.

In March, students from the New Tech program will use fundraising dollars to purchase kits from Sole Hope, to make shoes for children in Uganda.

The project began like any other New Tech project this year; the teachers opened up the lessons by teaching students about landforms, natural resources, different types of government and mapping skills. Then, using those lessons, they asked students to create their own countries.

“They had to develop their own flag, they had to come up with their own map, create the landforms they wanted, they had to create their own government,” Turner said.

They had to develop a system of currency, a climate and a constitution. Some created holidays, sporting events, animals, foods technology, education systems or transportation for their countries. They had to find their neighbors and other newly-created countries in class to import and export goods to and from.

Then the real fun began.

“During the second step, (students) made a list of all the bad things that could happen to a country,” Turner continued. Disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes and war were dropped into a cup and, when teachers pulled an alarm, it meant something bad was happening.

“When we actually had the first alarm and pulled it, they realized these natural disasters will impact their country. It was nice to see that lightbulb flip,” Turner said.

From this, students learned about categories of tornadoes and other natural disasters, and even war.

During wartime, countries were drawn at random to go to war for a variety of reasons- economics, revenge and territory, to name a few. Students had to write newspaper articles, and journal entries from different points of view throughout the country including nurses, policemen, firefighters and lifelong residents regarding the disasters.

Goods things could also happen to a country, including hosting the Winter Olympics, discovering a cure for cancer and being the first to visit Mars.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, students from the project-based learning section of the sixth grade came to check out the final projects. Maps, clay-based landscapes, flags and all manner of inventory were displayed and students voted on the top three countries they would like to live in.

Throughout the process, teachers read a book entitled, “A Long Walk to Water,” by Linda Sue Park. It told the story of an 11-year old boy in Uganda, named Salva who was separated from his family the Second Sudanese Civil War. Salva walked for weeks, struggling to find food and water, avoiding gunmen, lions and other threats to be reunited with his family. He eventually leads a troop of fellow lost boys to a refugee camp, and later finds his way to Rochester, New York, finally finds his father and starts a volunteer group to build wells in the South Sudan called Water for South Sudan.

“One big part of ‘A Long Walk to Water’ is the fact that they don’t have shoes. It’s talks about how people who don’t have shoes, especially people in African countries, can get jiggers and they talk about how painful that is and how it can cause other issues.”

Turner and Goelz designed their second service project of the year based on the book.

“For every project this year we’re doing a service project, something to give back,” Turner explained.

Students held fundraisers to raise money to buy 33 kits to make jean shoes for Sole Hope, and on Feb. 12, representatives from Lippert came by to drop off 10 boxes of jeans to help in their endeavor. They heard from students about the need of the shoes, and how students would be cutting the jeans into patterns to send back to Sole Hope to be pieced together and sent to children in need in Uganda.

“The service project are kind of the hook, because we present the service project pretty early so they can see how what we’re doing in here ties to the outside world. It’s not just a project, It’s a part that impacting the world around us,” Turner said.

Representatives at Lippert were so moved by the project that they told the kids they’d be back to help them cut patterns when the time came.

“The kids started really realizing this is beyond our classroom,” Turner said. “This is the real world and we’re actually helping people that exist out there.”

Turner said the project based learning program helps kids to be more life-ready than traditional teaching.

“With project-based learning it’s a lot of collaboration, learning how to work with others, learning how to problem solve when things go wrong- a lot of life skills that kids need when they enter the workforce, or go to college or go to high school even.”

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