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Try These Classroom Projects - Your Middle School Students Will Love Them

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Looking for rocking project ideas for your middle school students that will get them excited while bringing home the lesson? From board games to marketing campaigns, the following are sure to engage.

Projects for Student-Centered Learning

Whether you are a full-on disciple of project-based learning, or simply wish to weave a hands-on experience into your lesson plan, it is essential to keep a ready list of project ideas your middle school students can sink their teeth into. According to Edutopia, meaningful projects can translate to deeper learning, higher-level thinking, and improved social skills. The following are a sampling of ideas to light your middle school learners' curiosity and engage their interest.

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Mad Science

Sure, colorful plastic DNA models help students to visualize the blueprints to identity, but what if they could actually see DNA with their own eyes? Science Buddies, via Scientific American, explains how to extract DNA from strawberries.

Strawberries are useful here because each strawberry cell has eight copies of the genome, whereas most organisms have one genome copy per cell. According to Science Buddies, oatmeal and kiwi are two other good choices.

Materials for the experiment include alcohol, salt, water, dishwashing liquid, and a few other common household items. The experiment encourages students to observe various stages of extraction, along with the final result. Get the full method from Scientific American.

Young Entrepreneurs

A marketing project can be a fantastic event that offers both relevance and inter-disciplinary opportunities. Students can invent or develop a product or service, and see it through from proposal to packaging to sales. This multi-tiered project may include:

  • Small group brainstorming to come up with and clarify a concept
  • Research and market tests to evaluate need
  • Planning (including costs) and engineering
  • Creating packaging or delivery method for services
  • Creating ad campaigns and commercials

While developing and marketing a product or service is a large-scale project, it can be divided into segments throughout a term, with a schedule for completion. For example, a plan to sell roses made from chocolate kisses for Valentines Day can be started in January, after break. A campaign to raise awareness about sports-related head injuries or local homelessness may encompass an entire school year.

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Get Graphic

In her essay promoting comics as a teaching tool for middle school, Amelia Carl quotes James Bucky Carter, author Building Literary Connections with Graphic Novels: ''Graphic novels… are the perfect blend of word and picture, story as text and story as art. As such, they offer important, unique, and timely multiliteracy experiences.''

Graphic novels offer an entertaining and inclusive point of entry for reading comprehension for a broad spectrum of learners. They also present an awesome interdisciplinary opportunity for middle school students to engage with challenging material. If, for example, your curriculum includes a unit on World War II and the Holocaust, Art Spiegelman's Maus can provide a jumping off point for original group work. The Graphic Classroom lists works according to age and grade.

Check out lesson plans from an Iowa teacher's seventh-grade unit on comics.

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Home(Room) Improvement

A fender-bender in a West Virginia school parking lot developed into a cross-disciplinary improvement project for students, who redesigned the lot and proposed a plan for the design's implementation. What improvement projects need tackling in your school? This is a great opportunity to develop skills in geometry, engineering, civics, speech, and fiscal planning. Projects can include:

  • Design for improved green space
  • Reassessment of recycling techniques
  • Cafeteria overhaul to optimize flow
  • Plan a school garden
  • Assess and address accessibility throughout the school

Most of these are projects for the long haul and completed in stages.

Fun with Physics

What's more hard core than gravity? Get your middle school students excited about physics with the Egg Bungee Drop experiment. The challenge is to find out how many rubber bands are needed to drop an egg from a certain height and have it repel before smashing into the ground. Bonus challenge: adjust calculations so that the egg can drop and spring back before smashing into the face of a student - or teacher - who lies on the floor under the drop site.

Community Outreach

Check in with local community resources to see what projects might be appropriate for your middle school class to take on. Ideas can include a bike repair shop, social media and computer tutoring for seniors, or providing daycare services at a homeless shelter.

Project-based learning can take shape in an afternoon experiment, or over the course of an entire school year. The benefits of getting kids involved in multi-tiered projects include integrated learning, multiple points of access, and full engagement. Your middle school students will love getting involved and making stuff happen.

By Irene Cooper
February 2017
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