The last two weeks of each quarter are our principal and teachers favorite and most stressful part of the Project-Based Learning Middle School program at Lancaster Mennonite. The sounds of tools humming, students buzzing, and teachers guiding is music to an administrators ears. The smell of sawdust in the air is just icing on the cake. 

Project-Based Learning Middle Schoolers at Lancaster Mennonite hosted their first quarter Exhibition night on Thursday, 10/24 at 6pm. They spent the last few months researching regions of the world that are experiencing a water crisis and then problem-solved, prototyped, analyzed, designed and built solutions. From focusing on a water shortage in India to hurricanes in the Bahamas they created desalination filters, rain catchment systems, hurricane simulators, redesigned groundwater wells, developed new water carrying systems to free women up so they can attend school – and more incredible projects that they presented and demonstrated last Thursday night.

Over 200 guests attended the public event and heard first-hand about the global water crisis around the world and how students designed solutions.

“Most of the world’s valuable resources, water included, are shared in common: where individuals, corporations, and governments have the right to freely use. A problem occurs when one person’s/institution’s use of water affects others access to safe, clean drinking water. It is our calling as followers of Jesus to be stewards, mindful of our local and global responsibility to care. Our students are learning to tackle these problems head on with innovative solutions.” Eloy Rodriguez, principal at Lancaster Mennonite Middle School.

“Authentic Audience” – Local Expert Provides Feedback on Student Projects In-Progress

Two weeks before Exhibition night we invited Tyler Kreider, a local ecological engineer from Kleinschmidt Associates and also a Lancaster Mennonite Alum, to come and listen to students present their solutions and give them some professional feedback. In the project based learning world, this is called authentic audience.  Tyler was more impressed with the ideas students presented and the conversations they are having than I was with his ability to give feedback on the spot about why a certain filter may not work or how their solution might have some unintended consequences to the habitats they are located within, while also encouraging them in the process, giving suggestions of ways to improve their solutions, and praising the work they’ve done so far.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said, “I can’t believe some of the ideas these kids are coming up with and their ability to articulate it. I never had conversations like this when I was in middle school.”

This is exactly why we believe so strongly in the power of our project based learning program. Our students are engaging with the world in ways most middle school students never have the chance to do. 

What Happens at Exhibition Night?

At Exhibition Night, attendees get to hear from students about their learning and the process they have gone through to get to where they are. Embedded within that process is authentic feedback from teachers, peers, and professionals; many opportunities to revise and improve their work; performance based assessments and evidence (not multiple choice tests) that shows they understand what they have learned; scale drawings that lead to prototypes that lead to testing that lead to failing that lead to revising that lead to higher quality work and ultimately more authentic learning experiences.

In visiting with students, you understand that the solutions they are presenting are much more than the pretty (or not so pretty) objects sitting on their tables. The process they have gone through this quarter to get to this night includes hours and hours of research, engagement, grit, frustrations, celebrations, and resilience. There is a handout with question prompts are purposeful and useful for attendees to target the process of student learning, not just the final product. The students are ready and prepared to engage and “immerse” you in the water crisis they have researched and their proposed solutions.

Students are engaged in conversations and the hope is…because at the end of the day, how many of us can say that we just had a conversation with an 11 year old about their desalination filter that they built by themselves, that could ultimately give humans an unlimited supply of fresh water? 

We are so thankful for the gift of water, and pray that we can protect and conserve our natural waters so that God’s work can continue here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Next Quarter – “The 100 People Project: A World Portrait”

The Middle School’s next quarter theme is called “The 100 People Project: A World Portrait”, and is focused on people and populations. Understanding the world’s population is hindered by the sheer size of the task. We can measure numbers and statistics, but the reality of 7.5 billion people is infinitely more difficult to comprehend. While it is virtually impossible to accurately portray the life experiences of each one of us, the aim of this project is to select and present a representative sample of 100 of the earth’s population. This much smaller yet proportionally accurate portrait offers a more manageable way for us to better understand who we are as a species. It is our hope that this work will inspire people to see the world in a new way. Who are the people each of us shares our neighborhood, community, town, school, and country with? Where does each of us fit in?

The project will capture in film, photography, music and text 100 individuals who represent the global population, proportionate to annual global surveys and statistics. This world portrait will be used to make an introduction between the peoples of the earth and to facilitate an understanding of the diversity and commonalities among us.

Exhibition night is open to the public and will be held on January 9, 2020 at 6:00 PM.

Prepared by Carrie King – Creative Director at Lancaster Mennonite School