The Tides of March

The Middle School’s traditional minimester often involves a trip—sometimes a short one down the road, sometimes halfway across the country, sometimes halfway around the world. This year, of course, the 5th grade team had to plan a very different kind of minimester.

In what was dubbed a “micromester,” the 5th grade came together both virtually and in person for a four-day interdisciplinary study of water. Students heard from experts from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, read Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, and had a session with a student’s relative who walked for water in her native Gabon. Each homeroom also engaged in an experiential representation of the novel A Long Walk to Water. Two homerooms walked the mile and a half to Hazen Creek, gathered a gallon of water, and returned to the School, representing the character Nya, who needs to walk long distances to retrieve water. Two other homerooms completed an obstacle course and a variety of activities that represented the physical challenges encountered by the character Salva Dut, a “Lost Boy” during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

That was just a trickle. Then came the deluge.

Academic technology coordinator Holly Kinnamont and Middle School librarian Nanyamkah Mars taught the students how to use Google Earth to map tours of the Chesapeake Bay. Art teacher Eliza Bright gave a lesson on installation art, and then students created their own installations, using water as an element. Chinese teacher Yuan Angel explained China’s burgeoning water crisis. Choral music teacher Hilary Hogan led students as they played music on water glasses and discussed other water-based musical instruments, such as hydraulophones and Croatia’s Sea Organ (which, instead of being played by human hands, functions like a water-powered windchime in the city of Zadar).

“It was just a really cool deep dive from a lot of different perspectives,” Hogan says, “taking everyone’s expertise and looking at water from different angles.”

“This really inspired me to find a way to connect what I’m teaching to the subject,” Angel says. “I was worried the students who take Spanish instead of Chinese wouldn’t be familiar with me, but they were so interactive and so eager to learn. This was a great opportunity for me to make a connection to the entire 5th grade.”

Like so many experiences during this pandemic year, the necessity of changing led to inspiration.

“You’re normally kind of siloed in minimester,” says Middle School teacher Mary Dufour, because so many students and teachers travel to far-flung locations. “This was a real opportunity for the whole team to put in an effort,” she says, “and it just showed you what a remarkable group of people we have who work together in 5th grade.”

Even though next year minimester may look more like it has in the past (we hope!), this chance to try something new may have a long-lasting impact.

“We might incorporate one of these deep dives going forward,” Dufour says. “If we could figure out a way maybe once a trimester to incorporate it around a book that we’re reading, then kids get exposure through the language part of it, through physical activity, through all the disciplines.”

“I am all about this kind of interdisciplinary learning; it is truly to the benefit of our students,” Bright says. “It inspired me to create a project for my students I might not otherwise have been inspired to create—drawing inspiration from my colleagues is always a great thing.”

The immersion in water, Dufour says, also meant that the overall message carries a greater impact with the students than if the lessons had been limited to just one or two days or to the normal classroom experience.

“To hear the Quaker value of stewardship over and over makes a difference,” she says. “We hope that some of it sticks, so at least when they’re standing there brushing their teeth, they’re not running the water.”

For this micromester, the teachers learned just as much as the students. Not just about water, but about the value of turning a challenge into an opportunity and an opportunity into a success.

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