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Collaboration in Middle School

February 10, 2017-- Collaboration can be defined as the action of working together towards a common goal or result. This is an expected skill at school as well as in the workplace. ISD Middle School teachers embrace this as we plan and implement curriculum and instruction.

A particularly important and exciting form of collaboration involves working across subjects to design projects. This multi-disciplinary approach not only follows best practice in teaching, it also gives students a richer experience.

Collaboration is not new in the Middle School, but each year we work to expand it. This year, teachers posted their tentative units of study for the year. We were then able to see overlap in possible shared skills (e.g., one Math 7 APE involves timezones, a concept covered in Social Studies 7) and/or content (Drama 7 students develop monologues based upon characters from A Raisin in the Sun, a play read in Language Arts 7).

Here are other examples of collaboration that have occurred this year:

  • When Art 8 explored a unit on copper tooling, students used industrial inventions to match up with the Industrial Revolution unit of study in Social Studies 8 and learned about the patina process through Science 8.

  • After reading A Wrinkle in Time in Language Art 6 and studying planets in Science 6, students created and described a fictional planet.

For the second year in a row, the 7th grade Social Studies and Language Arts - taught by Sandra Goldsborough and Michael Martrich, respectively - have teamed up on a European Middle Ages project.

The unit starts in Social Studies where students learn basic information about the time. In Language Arts, meanwhile, students study historical fiction novels set in the European Middle Ages.

Upon completion of these studies, each student chooses a topic from the Middle Ages and thoroughly researches the topic using print and electronic resources. They must locate information, take notes, and cite sources through this process. Research time is given in both classes.

Then, students begin work on fashioning a digital magazine on the topic. The staple piece, complete in Social Studies, is a feature article modeled off of Junior Scholastic, a source used in class. In Language Arts, students work to supplement the feature article. They choose from various non-fiction genres, including “how-to articles” and “interviews,” all conducted from a Middle Ages point of view. Students include cover pages and other creative pieces such as advertisements and made-up top-ten song lists of whichever year their research highlighted. Finally, they put all of these pieces into a digital magazine.

So what are the benefits?

There are a range of benefits from this type of collaboration. It allows students to dig deeper into a topic, stretching their understanding. It shows how subjects/disciplines are connected, providing a more authentic view of how the world works. It provides the time to hone necessary skills while also allowing the freedom to be creative.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are what students had to say:

"I think using both classes gave plenty of time to work on the magazine and allowed for more diversity for content. Instead of just, 'Oh, it is all on castles' or any other topic, it gives more." Aaron S.
"I thought that the collaboration between Social Studies and Language Arts was helpful. It was easier to split the work up by doing research in Ms. Goldsborough's class, and creative writing in Mr. Martrich's. I appreciated that they talked to one another to set deadlines instead of ignoring the other class." Nora D.
"For me doing the project in both classes helped because both classes were focused on different ways to show the European Middle Ages in projects. English was more the creative part and the book part whereas social studies was more factual." Maxym B.

This type of integrated approach not only pushes students, it also challenges teachers. It requires compromise, communication, respect, and time. 

By Sandra Goldsborough & Michael Martrich

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