The Power of Project Work: Researching Sharks With Middle School Students

I feel so grateful to spend my days engaged in meaningful work with children. It really gives me a sense of purpose.  I constantly feel this profound happiness in knowing that I am part of a school that really values children and encourages them to find their unique strengths, whatever they may be. The school that I am a part of sees learning as a collaborative endeavor. Learning is a lifelong process of discovery, reflection, and rediscovery. What an inspiring way to spend your days as a student. I am equally as inspired. Every day I wake up anticipating what new things I might discover. What I might discover about the unique learning process of each child, what I might discover about myself, and what I might discover about life. This is a school I dreamed I could be a part of as a child. This is a school I am elated to have my children be a part of. I am so grateful to my boss (and close friend) for envisioning this school. She is at the heart of real change. Those of us helping to bring her vision to life are like activists for a special cause. In my opinion, we are helping to make the world a better, more authentic, more beautiful place.

Last Thursday, I spent the entire day engaged in the type work that makes me excited to get up each morning. It was more than a field trip…my co-worker (and good friend) called it an expedition and that’s just what it seemed like. It was definitely one of those memorable experiences that birthed so many new learning opportunities. I found this experience (as well as the context that led to it) so powerful that I thought I’d share about it.

As part of our school-wide research of migration, the middle school students at my school are researching the migration of sharks. A few months ago, they connected with a local scientist who was kind enough to mentor them. She sent them a relevant article to dissect, they wrote her essays detailing their thoughts on the article, and they engaged in a productive Skype session with her where they asked her many meaningful questions relevant to their research.

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She then connected them with a team of scientists who regularly go out to sea to tag sharks. The scientists were eager to help the children research further. They offered the children a great rate (only covering the cost of the boat) but it was still more than we’d ever collected for a field trip. We were worried that we might not come up with the funds in time. Through constant collaboration with our school family and a lot of hard work, the children fundraised over $700 to offset the cost of this special research expedition.

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Last week, we set off with the team of local scientists to study sharks. I spent much of the trip in awe of this opportunity. I watched as the children engaged in meaningful conversations with community members. I watched as the children worked together (and worked really hard) to bait and set out lines tied to 50 pound weights. I watched them anticipate the sharks they might encounter. I watched as they pulled in what seemed like about 20 lines. Many of the times they pulled in empty hooks but they did not falter. I mean, an empty hook is just as important to their research as pulling in a shark.  So many empty hooks signify how difficult it is to pull in a shark. It means that scientists must be resilient, determined, and optimistic. Throughout the course of the day they did pull in three sharks. The joy in their faces proved that hard work pays off. Eagerly, the children worked with the scientists to measure, tag, and collect samples of each shark. Data that is invaluable as it will help shape what we understand about sharks in the future. We all knew that this was a very special day. It was an authentic day filled with joy and discovery. A day we will never forget.

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DIY Salt Dough Ornaments

I love working on projects with children. Creating something together is always such a special way to bond. A few weeks ago I found a link for DIY Salt Dough Ornaments. It was a simple and easy to follow recipe. I was excited to try it. I made the ornaments with my 3 year old niece, Audrey. Audrey is a girly girl who loves to spend time in her play kitchen. This was a really special project for her. She was in charge of creating the salt dough ornaments herself while my sister and I helped to facilitate. We quickly noticed that Audrey took this task seriously. She was determined, she was concentrated, and she was happy to be in that moment. Luckily, my sister is an amazing photographer who captured Audrey’s process from start to finish.

DIY Salt Dough Ornaments

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Materials

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Cinnamon (Optional)
  • Measuring Cups
  • 1 Big Bowl
  • 1 Mixing Spoon
  • 1 Rolling Pin
  • 1 Baking Sheet
  • 1 Straw
  • Cookie Cutters or a Needle Tool
  • Liquid Watercolor
  • Painbrushes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water (add more if mixture is too dry)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 250F
  2. Add 1 cup of flour to a large bowl.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of salt.

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3. Add 1/2 cup of water.

4. Add a tbsp of cinnamon (optional). The cinnamon makes your ornaments smell delicious and gives them a natural light brown coloring.

5. Mix the ingredients together.

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6. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. The dough should be about 1/8 inch thick.

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7. Sprinkle a little flour over the slab of dough.

8. Cut out your desired shapes. We used star shaped cookie cutters but you can use an exacto knife or a needle tool to cut out custom shapes. You can also simply sculpt whatever you’d like. This is a great material to work with.

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9. Press the end of a straw into the spot where you’d like to string ribbon to hang your ornament.

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10. Peel away extra dough and lift the cutout.

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11. Bake your ornaments for two to three hours. Flip them once midway.

12. Give your ornaments several hours to cool off.

13. Using liquid watercolor, paint your ornaments.

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14. String and hang your beautiful ornaments 🙂