A View from the Middle - Middle School

Welcome to A View from the Middle by Corinna Crafton, Head of Middle School, a blog featuring interesting educational observations and commentary. 

Dr. Crafton will be posting here regularly. Please be sure to scroll down to read more and check back frequently for updates.

STEAM Workshop Fosters Analytical Thinking

Why won’t this work? What am I missing? How can we fix this problem?

We love to hear students ask these questions. For teachers at W+H Middle School, asking questions when puzzled or stuck is a sign of deep thinking and thoughtful analysis of one’s actions.

During last week’s STEAM workshop, Middle School students worked to analyze and solve myriad challenges as they developed an original “Choose Your Own Adventure” animated game using relatively simple lines of code. The technology used a block coding platform called Pyonkee, which is not particularly difficult to use. In fact, within the first day of the workshop, students had mastered the fundamentals. The challenge came not in mastering the technology but in working to take an original idea, or concept, and convert it into reality using the tools provided and to provide instructions to others in order that they may replicate the program. Students had to think creatively, and when they encountered a problem – and they encountered many – analyze it, troubleshoot solutions together, test them out, and try again. 

Using a project critiquing model, we invited students to record their instructions as they worked and then trade them with another group which would attempt replication. This form of peer review, much like that conducted in laboratories across industries, allows students to take the lead in creating something new, collaborate to build and test, support others by providing feedback on designs and programs, and celebrate successes individually and collectively. 

We know that analytical thinking happens across the disciplines, on courts, fields, and stages and far beyond. Providing space for students in all of their activities to truly reflect on process fosters in them agency and a sense of control over outcomes. Deliberately calling attention to the connections between desired outcomes and actual results is critical to developing deeply analytical thinking, the very skill needed to tackle life’s biggest challenges and help to pioneer solutions to our world’s most protracted problems. We are proud to be part of a school community that believes deeply in rigorous inquiry and the strength of character to face challenges with wonder.
Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday November 14, 2018 at 12:31PM
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Two Snakes, Two Frogs, Two Tons of Mud

Our second Service Learning Day of the school year took place in early October at the Ashbrook Reservation. We have worked at this site before, hauling and laying logs to stabilize the hiking trail and learning about the delicate ecosystem balance in this area. Last year’s hardy crew scavenged and piled several hundred logs for us this year in building a new stretch of trail. It was a sunny, dry day, and we returned this fall ready to continue the work we had so earnestly begun. We had no idea just how much our rainy summer would impact this day of service.

Early Saturday morning, a dedicated crew of 20 Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School student and parent volunteers met with our guide and local expert, Marc Grobman, and entered the densely-packed woods. The semi-dry trail quickly became slick and uneven. In no time at all, we were calf-deep in mud and struggled to maintain balance. At times, the depth plunged deeper still. Did I mention we were also carrying loads of logs and tools in our hands as we journeyed deep into the forest?

We were not expecting the difficulty that awaited, including encounters with the more slimy varieties of wildlife that swam and slithered between our boots. Yet, we were ready.

Fortunately, our students spend time with each other and their teachers building capacity in several life skills that became critical for our success at the Ashbrook Reservation. Much of our work with students in the Middle School is focused on helping them to manage obstacles, confront new challenges, and develop strategies for sticking with something in order to learn and grow. The swampy trail at Ashbrook presented us with a very timely challenge that required us to adapt quickly and work in novel ways to be successful. It was clear that what had worked for us last year would not this year. 

So, we brainstormed and tested out a few new methods for hauling wood and laying trail beams in a swamp. Where individual hiking off trail to scavenge for wood was the perfect strategy last year, it would have been a recipe for soiled clothing and potential injury this year. Thus, we formed a hybrid assembly line, with adults venturing into the deeper swampy areas and students spacing themselves effectively along the trail to receive armfuls of very heavy, water-logged wood to pass along to our trail masters up at the top of the line. 

Likewise, we realized that the physical toll of working in the muck, which made every step an extraction, and carrying water-logged bundles, meant we tired long before we did last year. Safety comes first on such missions, and we had to accept that ending the work just a bit earlier than last time was necessary to keep injuries at bay. 

Speaking with students after this unique service learning event, I realized anew just how resilient and thoughtful our students are. Several spoke of learning to accept the inevitability of soaked clothing and shoes, admitting that after an hour in the woods, they stopped noticing just how dirty they had become, for they were enthralled in the team effort. In the true spirit of service, students helped one another when the going got particularly tough, as it did when we arrived at the work site to find the entire area submerged. Another student shared with me how proud he felt in organizing the new assembly line method to trail building. He was able to understand and articulate his understanding that the poor quality of the area that day was necessary to provide him with an opportunity to create a new solution to a problem. That is precisely the goal of our work to instill a growth mindset, foster resilience, creativity in approaching problems, and teamwork. 

Witnessing the camaraderie and unity of purpose amongst our volunteer crew was very special. It is in these moments, and many others like them, that the true character of our community shines. 

We return to Ashbrook in two weeks for more work on the trail. Our pioneering thinkers are ready for the challenge. Bring on the mud!

Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday October 17, 2018 at 03:33PM
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Of Failure and New Beginnings

The start of the new school year presents students with a vast vista of possibility, an opulence of opportunity just waiting to be discovered, and excitement to begin it all. As we move through the first days of school, routines are established and a rhythm develops. Teachers spend time over the summer reading, researching, planning, collaborating, and organizing. One of our many summer activities includes a faculty read. This year, a number of teachers selected the bookCulturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.by Jimmy Casas.

This engaging book offers practical strategies parents, teachers, and students themselves can use to foster positive mindsets and successful outcomes. Casas reminds adults that we model what we get,and in a chapter titled “Expect Excellence” he provides a few simple thoughts that we may use to model the very strengths we wish to see in our students. For example, Casas urges readers to “embrace vulnerability,” asking when we last tried something new and challenging whether we are asking “students to do something that you are not willing to do?” (65-66) What a powerful question for adults to consider. We often ask students to take academic risks, lean into their learning, yet we sometimes stick to the familiar and our routines due to a fear of doing just that ourselves.

Providing clarity, staying the course, and risking failure are additional recommendations Casas makes. He discusses the experience of failure as a true gift and, indeed, a necessity for growth and development: “Experience is still the best teacher...we should put them [children] in positions more often to experience failure - and the consequences that come with having failed. One of the best skills we can teach kids is failure recovery” (66). 

This advice can run afoul of the best intentions of those who care about children. We do not want our young people to be disappointed, lose confidence, or avoid taking important risks in their learning. Yet, we may remove crucial steps in the learning process if we deny children an opportunity to make a mistake or get it wrong. The way in which we approach the concept of failure is key to creating a safe space for learning from failing in order to feel confident to try again. Resilience, one of the eight character traits we focus on in the Middle School program, simply cannot develop without experiences of failure. Maintaining a community of caring, where second and third and fourth attempts are the norm, allow students to stay the course in their learning, as we work with the long game, the big picture in mind. 

We have asked ourselves, and I ask you, what new thing will you try this year? Will you fail on your first attempt at making that fancy soufflé, speaking your first full sentence in a new language, completing a three-mile run, broaching that difficult topic with a loved one? Will you give up after one try? Or, will you stay the course and build your resiliency quotient? We model what we get, as Jimmy Casas reminds, so we must try and fail, and try yet again. This year’s motto for my learning and growing is: Onward! Perhaps this single word captures the resilient spirit, the can-do and must-do attitude we are thrilled to see in your children when they jump into their learning each day in Middle School. 

Interested in Jimmy Casas’ book? Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever it Takes by Jimmy Casas

Posted by ccrafton on Tuesday September 18, 2018 at 02:42PM
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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The rhythm of daily life seems to ebb a bit with the arrival of the first heatwave in summer. We experienced our first heatwave of the summer recently, followed this past week by tremendous thunderstorms, complete with splendid displays of nature’s own fireworks in the form of lightning. For many, the normal routines of life are happily interrupted by a vacation or simply a relaxing staycation (the new word, I believe, for remaining at home while on a break from work). I hope that your family has or will enjoy some restorative time before the new school year is upon us.

During these summer days, I look to find a quiet moment for reflection upon the school year that has recently ended. I think about our students’ growth and achievements, where we as a community have best supported them and shined a light on their unique qualities, and also where we can do more and better by each student and teacher.

Looking back over the school year that was, I am struck by how deeply connected our students and teachers have been to their local and broader communities. Despite our relatively small size, the Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School has had a vast reach, one that has made a significant and positive impact in lives across the country and around the world. Through acts of service, students have embraced and practiced the mission skills we work hard to foster: Creativity, Curiosity, Teamwork, Resilience, Time Management, and Ethics. Tied to these traits are the equally important qualities of Empathy and Kindness.

It is indeed quite incredible to consider that our small Division of fewer than 100 students completed nearly two dozen off-campus service learning activities and even more on-campus awareness and fund raising activities during just one academic year. Students across the three grades in Middle School worked to restore local habitats and packed tons (literally, many tons) of food for distribution to needy families in and beyond the central New Jersey area. In addition, they taught each other about childhood and adult cancers, raising money in the process to donate to worthy research organizations. Current events informed their service as they learned about disaster recovery and then took action by adopting a school in Houston that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, connecting with students and teachers there to learn what they needed and then setting about on a weeks-long project of gathering, packing, and shipping the many supplies and books the school would need to reopen its doors.

Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School students also extended their learning by making personal global connections with individual students at The Riverside School in Kenya. They were able to speak in real-time with other middle school students many thousands of miles away, in the process learning they have so much more in common, including a love of sports, technology, memes, and having fun.  

What do our Middle School students learn about themselves and their world through these activities? Their teachers and advisors have had many discussions with them about service learning and global interconnection. The contemplative responses of our young adolescents demonstrate just how deeply Wardlaw+Hartridge students think about the world and their place in it. One sixth grader with whom I spoke shared how “grown up” she felt in helping to lead the effort to restock the school in Houston hit by Hurricane Harvey. She explained that as students who care “we all want the work we were doing to mean something.” This sentiment, making an impact that lasts, is shared by the Middle School students who yearn to contribute and help to solve large-scale problems through learning and taking small steps.

Our eighth graders take part in a special micro-finance project each winter. Wardlaw+Hartridge alumnus Greg Casagrande ‘81 visits with the eighth graders each year to teach them about the world of micro-finance and his work as the CEO of MicroDreams, a non-profit organization that works to empower women in the islands of the South Pacific. He inspires our students by helping them to realize they can have a direct and lasting impact on the lives of the individuals a world away by engaging in entrepreneurial philanthropy. The eighth graders form small businesses complete with detailed business plans, and set about creating products and services to raise money, which is then donated to MicroDreams. The money these eighth graders contribute is distributed in the form of small loans to clients of MicroDreams. Over time, the loan is repaid and the cycle repeats. Thus, the funds our very first group of students donated years ago is still repeating dividends and improving the lives of formerly impoverished families a world away.

This year, Mr. Casagrande shared with us a special note of thanks from one of his clients, a woman living in the Solomon Islands. He explained that our donations helped her to complete “six micro-enterprise loans to date,” beginning in 2013 with a loan of $125 which she used to start a small bakery. She has since grown that business and now uses the microloan process to work on constructing a proper home, for many in her village live in homes made from scrap materials without flooring or plumbing. When our students learn of the very real benefits of their organizing and giving, they experience first-hand the power of service to change lives for the better….both those they help as well as their own. 

Posted by ccrafton on Tuesday July 24, 2018 at 09:20AM
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Busy Days in the Middle

Springtime at the Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School is filled with action and excitement. There are no fewer than one dozen special activities infusing these culminating weeks with great energy! 

During the month of May alone, our Middle School students have:

*rehearsed speeches and provided constructive feedback in order to bring out the best in one another;

*performed in a Shakespeare dramatic production;

*worked on teams to explore physics by planning and construct a working roller coaster;

*formed small businesses and engaged in entrepreneurial philanthropy to raise awareness about compelling social and environmental issues as well as to raise funds to support a non-profit organization that helps women in developing nations of the South Pacific to start small businesses of their own;

*joined with other vocalists and instrumentalists in a variety of musical ensembles for our spring concert and piano recital;

*participated in a full Division art showcase and toured visitors through the gallery;

*and welcomed our current fifth graders as they prepare to join our division next school year.

One of my favorite culminating activities of the school year is the publication of our literary magazine The Hyphen. Student authors and artists contribute their original work to this publication, which is distributed at the end of the school year. Designed and produced by students, the collection features artwork, short fiction, poetry, photography, and academic pieces written by students across the three middle grades. This publication allows students to showcase individual talents through collaborative effort. 

Our magazine is aptly named, for we are the hyphen between two divisions (Lower and Upper), and also the connective tissue between them. This year’s Hyphen magazine has just been distributed to students. Within its pages are students communicating in many modes about their own experiences, ideas, and beliefs. The Hyphen serves also as a keepsake of the three years students spend in Middle School. 

Yet, more is to come during these last days of the school year. 

Our sixth graders will build seaworthy crafts to race across our pool on Regatta Day. Our seventh graders will enter their roller coasters in friendly competition and judges will select winners. Our eighth graders will rehearse for the Stepping Up ceremony, the somewhat bittersweet conclusion of their Middle School careers. They are ready for Upper School, but we will miss their presence and their energy. As we prepare for next week’s Stepping Up ceremony, we look back on the year that has been and recognize just how much joy and hard work each student has contributed to the community. In short order, students and teachers will embark on myriad summer journeys and activities. For now, let us enjoy the days together here in the middle...in the Hyphen. 

Happy Summer!

Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday May 30, 2018 at 08:50AM
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Leaning In: Embracing Academic Rigor by Taking Academic Risk

She peers into the microscope, eager to examine the zebrafish eggs recently brought by Mrs. Barnett from their catchment area outside Philadelphia to the science classroom. Her study of cell biology and practice using scientific equipment have prepared this sixth grader for today’s hands-on inquiry. Certainly, she could read about zebrafish in a textbook or even watch a video of zebrafish eggs growing and hatching. However, the experiential study which is a hallmark of the Middle School science program allows this budding scientist to put her skills and knowledge to the test in a real-time laboratory environment. 

He moves beyond the study of vocabulary to a deeper understanding of this ancient foundation to the English language. He is enthralled by Roman culture and fascinated by the rich discussions in Mr. McElroy’s Latin classroom. This young man translates passages from Latin to English and can replicate a scale model of Roman architecture. Thoughtfully and with poise and polish, he explains to younger students and peers alike the cultural importance and physical properties of architecture to the daily life of Romans. Perhaps he could have learned the subtleties of this beautiful, ancient language via Youtube tutorial; however, the joy and support of learning together with like-minded peers in a lively and rigorous setting with encouragement from a dedicated teacher allows him to embrace academic risks each day and move far beyond his own expectations.

They begin their final year of Middle School with the largest academic challenge of their careers. Essential questions guide initial research into what will become a unique year-long inquiry into a topic of personal interest and global significance. The Capstone research project challenges all eighth graders to move far beyond recall and recitation to complex synthesis. They demonstrate the many cognitive and character skills and capacities honed through their middle grades experiences, and by the final month of the school year, they will have conducted multiple phases of this special project. The Capstone project invites students to utilize research and writing skills, translate salient findings into a work of art, practice the art of public speaking, and reflect on the experience. The rigor intrinsic to the Capstone program pushes students to lean in fully to their learning and take ownership of the outcome. 

The phrase “academic rigor” may suggest to some a rigidness or unyielding high expectation that is less about individual student outcomes and more about a ceaselessly changing definition of success. At The Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School, we define academic rigor as the continual pursuit of learning at a level that is adaptable to each student and which inspires all to achieve to their highest potential. At W+H, academic rigor is personal.

Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday May 2, 2018 at 09:27AM
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Rest in Peace Steven Hawking

Outliving doctors’ predictions by more than five decades, mathematician and theoretical physicist Steven Hawking died on March 14 of this year at the age of 76, fifty-five years after diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His accomplishments rival those of other greats who came before, and as was his wish, Hawking’s ashes were put to rest between the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Hawking’s accomplishments are truly astounding, vast, and far-reaching. He is perhaps best known for a discovery in 1974 about black holes, which challenged a premise put forth by Einstein that nothing, including light, can escape them. Hawking’s theory posits that radiation is actually emitted by black holes. (http://time.com). For physicists, this revelation introduced an entirely new area of research and inquiry that continues today. The Hawking Radiation Theory and many other bold discoveries have turned theoretical physics on its head and challenged many accepted ideas. Hawking was a maverick, indeed.

It is, thus, quite incredible to consider that Hawking made all of his many breakthroughs after receiving the terrifying diagnosis of ALS at age 21. The debilitating effects of the disease escalated quickly and included the eventual loss of his voice and all physical movement, save for his eyes. He became wheelchair bound, required assistance with all day-to-day activities, and yet continued to make one bold discovery after another. How did he adapt so completely to this life of such profound restriction and struggle?

Perhaps Steven Hawking approached the diagnosis of ALS as another physics puzzle to be solved. Certainly, he adjusted to an increasingly-resistant body. Yet, his rate of work production and capacity for deep thought increased. Hawking transcended a grim prognosis by adopting a forceful can-do attitude and adapting to the physical changes induced by illness. He adapted by making use of technology that could assist him, from a swanky wheelchair with features for replacing fine motor functions to voice-assistance software that enabled him to put into words the fantastically rich and complex ideas in his head. He adapted also by relying on others, building close relationships with peers, and leaning on family and friends for support and help.

Long before the term “growth mindset” appeared on the scene, Hawking embraced it. He embodied the perspective that allowed him to succeed where others may have simply quit.

At The Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School, we ask our students to adapt to myriad changes and new ways of doing things all the time. From the daily challenges presented by a rotating, drop schedule to the reality of different teaching styles in each of their classes, our students shift gears throughout their days. In these hands-on, experiential learning environments, we encourage students to adapt their thinking and approaches to problem-solving. Adapting a collaborative posture, one with students actively listening to and learning from each other, builds our strong sense of community. By encouraging students to try new things, perhaps taking part in the Middle School musical, playing a new sport, or submitting a piece of original creative fiction to our literary magazine, we invite them to adjust how they think of themselves, thus adapting a pro-change and pro-growth mindset at the most personal level.

We recognize that regardless of what fields our middle schoolers may pursue in college and beyond, they will need the highly-prized skill of adaptability. In fact, we cannot predict what careers will exist in 10 years’ time. Thus, being adaptive to an ever-changing and evolving educational and vocational landscape is crucial for their future success. This means a mind and spirit open to change, capable of altering course and welcoming challenge. In addition, it means transcending supposed limits. Steven Hawking can provide us all with an example of just how powerful and life-changing the adaptive mindset can be.

In memoriam, Stephen William Hawking. 1942 - 2018

Cosmologist, space traveler, and hero.



Spring Reading Book Recommendation:

Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence

by Steinberg, Laurence

This book is a helpful tool for those who care about the development of the young teen brain. Steinberg explores what neuroscience research is telling us about the capacity for change in the teen brain and introduces several strategies to help foster resilience and self-control. 

Posted by ccrafton on Thursday March 22, 2018 at 02:54PM
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Logos, Ethos, Pathos: The Eighth Grade Debate as an Exercise in Analytical Thinking

Is it possible to actually watch analytical thinking taking place? Yes, indeed it is. When we watch public speaking, we are witnessing analytical thinking in action.

Recently, the Wardlaw+Hartridge eighth graders participated in our annual Middle School Debate, which took place in the Sonawalla Center for Global Learning. From the very beginning of the process, students took the lead by researching and selecting appropriate debate topics, assigning roles within each team, identifying and vetting potential arguments, and anticipating the actions of their adversary.

Each step in preparing for a debate requires sustained analytical thinking: the systematic and logical effort to resolve problems, identify their causes, and anticipate unexpected results.

Further, both analytical thinking and debate require students to draw upon their experiences and existing knowledge while continually incorporating new resources to learn more. All this analyzing and strategizing occurs in real time during rehearsals and during the live debate itself. Students help each other by quickly analyzing arguments as they are being made, adjusting rebuttals to respond in real time.  

When we first begin our study of debate, we explore three Greek terms to guide us: ethos, logos, and pathos (ethics/truth, logic/order, and passion/conviction). Analytical thinking takes place when teams work on the validity and truth of their arguments (ethos), again when they organize opening, rebuttal, and closing statements (logos), and finally when they plan and rehearse delivery (pathos). The eighth graders impressed their judges with their ability to weave together these three integral components.

This year, our students selected two compelling topics for their debate: the proposed removal of confederate statues and the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence. Our debate judges included a retired executive from CBS Television, a journalist and photographer, as well as a published author and public speaker. Each conveyed how impressed they were with the depth of analysis and conviction students brought to the process. We are very proud of our analytical thinkers. Way to go Wardlaw+Hartridge eighth grade debaters!

Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday February 7, 2018 at 03:45PM
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Social Media Challenges to Ethical Conduct

When is a story more than a story? The short answer is: Always.

Beginning with the very first nursery rhymes and fairy tales read aloud to our children when they are tiny, we begin laying the stones of a foundation to their understanding of the world and their place in it. Our outlook on community, the ideologies from which we view and interact with others, are all formed in part by the stories we hear and the stories we tell about each other and ourselves. As our own children engage their imaginations when listening to or reading a story, they begin to take away small nuggets that become the larger rocks on which values rest and beliefs about themselves and others take shape.

Today, children craft and cultivate their own stories in a manner that did not exist just 10 years ago. From multiplayer video gaming systems to social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, children are creating and curating their personal stories in real-time and in a virtual and difficult to monitor community. The ubiquitous nature of social media and the ever-younger age at which children receive their first smartphones mean we are introducing them to an incredibly large and potentially unknowable audience at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. What are the assumptions we make about the ability of a middle schooler to navigate the online world? Are we expecting from them a maturity and wisdom that is not yet present?

When I hear middle school students who are 12 years old mention the group chat they had the night before, I pause and I worry. Indeed, we see adults struggle with doing what is right and kind while online. Yet, we provide tweens access to the wild west that is social media with an expectation that they will behave well and that the others they encounter online will do so also. We ask them to embrace an ethical attitude, which includes treating others with the same kindness and respect with which they wish to be treated but invite them into an unregulated and frequently unsupervised world of a group chat. Certainly, we know that there are times when people (children and adults alike) behave in ways online as they never would in person. We know also that adolescents do not always make the best decisions, particularly when made in haste. The lightning quick nature of social media interaction can remove even the opportunity to think first about the rightness of an action. 

I did not face this dilemma when my own children were in middle school, for the internet was not yet a presence in our daily lives, no smartphones existed, and “social media” was a handwritten note passed discreetly in class. The advent of hyperconnectivity, an always-on social media life, means there is no break from the chatter, the gossip, the group thread. A study published by Common Sense Media in 2015 found teenagers (ages 13-18) spend about nine hours a day consuming media entertainment and tweens (ages 8-12) an average of six hours. These hours do not include time spent online for school-related work. One cannot help but wonder if the hours online have increased over the two years since this study was conducted.

Recently, I have asked young people in our community to consider “unplugging” for a few days to give themselves a much-deserved respite from the worry that social media can induce. Upon our return in January, I shall be curious to know how students found their offline time. Perhaps we adults should give ourselves the gift of some time in the real world as well.

For more on the 2015 commonsensemedia.org study, please see:


Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday December 20, 2017 at 12:18PM
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Capstone Fuels Middle Schoolers’ Global Engagement

Feisal asks, “What happens to all the aid money that is sent to nations in Africa?”

Tenajah asks, “How do media depictions of women influence young children?”

Andrew asks, “How do agriculture corporations respond to programs aimed at curbing soil erosion?”

Shankari asks, “What is the obligation of a government to ensure its elections are free from outside manipulation?”

These, and 22 other primary questions, form the early stages of this year’s special inquiry project taking place in the Middle School. In recent weeks, the eighth graders have begun developing their individual research study, which we call The Capstone, for it “caps” the Middle School experience, bringing together many skills developed over several years. Helping students learn to ask the right questions, determine where to look for reliable answers, how to synthesize what they study with prior knowledge, and further, how to apply what they learn to novel situations, will equip them with the skills necessary to be engaged members of any community, large or small, local or global.

The Capstone spans much of the school year, beginning with a deep dive into an essential question, “When should an individual or a group take a stand to confront a problem?” Students begin the year thinking and writing about this question as it relates to their summer reading. By early October, they are applying this question to a specific problem that is of personal interest and global significance.

I am always impressed by how thoughtfully students explore their Capstone topics and the confidence and poise they develop by sharing their research with others. Asking young adolescents to grapple with a difficult-to-solve problem or thorny geo-political issue is ambitious and their work is not easy. Students must learn about governments, economies, fields of science, ecosystems, cultures, geographies, and complex histories in order to ground their work in a solid foundation. Merging curiosity and resilience with time management and hard work yields a powerful and engaging final product of which each eighth grader can be proud.

A sampling of this year’s Capstone topics includes:

Causes and Consequences of the Misuse of Financial Aid in Malawi and Rwanda

The Potential Economic Impact of Artificial Intelligence

Safety and Practice Protocol Changes in Response to Traumatic Sports Injury

The Roles of Nature and Nurture in the Development of Mental Illness

Behavioral Interventions for the Improvement of Life with Autism

The Causes and Consequences of Islamophobia

The Impact of Violent Videogames on Young Children

Each year, as I work with eighth graders to develop and refine their research topics, I am struck by how deeply they are thinking about prevalent issues in our world today. As we prepare students to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection, we work to create opportunities for them to take ownership of their learning by embarking on journeys that feature their unique interests and tie them to the larger world. Over the coming months, these eighth-grade researchers will share their findings in writing, via artistic representation, and through a formal speech given to peers and faculty.

A final feature of The Capstone experience is a collaborative exploration of the role that finance can play in taking action to improve the lives of others while contributing to solutions for large-scale world problems. In spring, our eighth graders will participate in a small group entrepreneurial leadership activity in which they form small businesses and learn about microfinance in third-world and developing nations. This action research project brings students together to support the excellent work of MicroDreams, a non-profit organization that establishes very small loans to families in the island nations of the South Pacific. Our students will meet with the President of that organization, Mr. Greg Casagrande, who is also a Wardlaw + Hartridge alumnus from the Class of 1981, and learn first-hand from him how he has been able to pair his desire to help others with his professional experience as a successful business entrepreneur.

This year’s senior class was the first eighth grade cohort to take part in The Capstone. As I worked with a number of them this fall on their college application essays, I recalled their eighth-grade Capstone research projects. I was awed when each relayed with great precision his or her topic and spoke of the experience as a powerful step in their preparation for the rigors of Upper School. This bit of anecdotal feedback supports much of what we have learned through surveys of students, parents, and faculty after each year of Capstone:  Research matters. Research paired with passion matters even more.

Posted by ccrafton on Wednesday November 29, 2017 at 09:06AM
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1295 Inman Ave,
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-1882
The Wardlaw + Hartridge School is a top private and college prep school in Edison, New Jersey, which provides an independent, pioneering educational experience at the early childhood, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school levels.
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