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HERALD SCHOOLS

North Shore Middle School students tackle issues with research

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Many of society’s pressing issues like sustainable energy, water pollution, gender equality, homelessness and gun violence are often left to the government to tackle, but at North Shore Middle School, 25 sixth graders had the opportunity to explore these topics through a combination of learning and research.

As part of the school’s inaugural “Global Village” elective course this year, students learned about the challenges facing society and completed their own in-depth research projects on a topic of their choice over the course of several months. The students presented their final projects at the school’s Global Village Exhibition on June 11 in the middle school library.

Led by teachers Michelle Abel and Daniel Mazz, students were first introduced to broader societal issues in Margaret Wise Brown’s, “The Important Book” and “If the World Were a Village” by David J. Smith. Designed as an “inquiry-based” course, students were encouraged to lead classroom discussions through their discoveries, something Mazz said breaks the traditional classroom model.

“Oftentimes when we think of a standard classroom, there’s a teacher at the front and then there’s students surrounding that teacher in some way,” he said. “These kids were actually the teachers, and they were really taking on the motivation themselves.”

Students gained confidence to ask questions and find their areas of interest, a crucial and rewarding part of the course’s initial “exploration phase,” Mazz said. “One of the most important factors was learning how to ask a question . . . and . . . then try to answer [it],” he said. “That’s a major difference between a lot of the education we see in public schools, which is, ‘is it fed to you or are you trying to discover it yourself?’”

After the eight-week exploration period, the students conducted research and developed an action plan to promote their cause. Although the teachers were there to help the students through the process, Abel said it was important that they also gain a sense of independence.

In the final phase, students created a short presentation and an “action piece” — such as a book, poster, comic strip or political cartoon — to demonstrate their findings and present at the exhibition. Many students expressed their appreciation for the course and look forward to extending their research goals beyond the classroom.

Caroline Winchester, who researched water shortages in sub-Saharan Africa, plans to set up donation and information tables at local community events to continue to help those struggling to find clean water. “I’m going to continue my project not just in the summer, not just in the fall but forever,” she said. “It’s really important to me, and it’s kind of a new part of my life.”

Olivia Bellocco, who researched homelessness, encouraged more students to raise awareness of important issues, and called on the government to solve those problems. “I think it’s important to hear what kids have to say about topics that have been around for so long [and] are really severe,” she said. “It’s not just adults that can help.”

James Brissenden, who researched the harmful effects of pollution, plans to lobby government officials to find solutions to the problems he discovered in his research. “I made three petitions, and I’m planning on sending them with a letter I [wrote] to various politicians to try to get the laws I had ideas for improved,” he said.

For her project, Juliette Ryan-Baez was inspired to create a presentation about the course itself, which she plans to present to the school board and administration next year. “This class was important to all of us because it was really eye-opening,” she said, “so I thought that everyone should be given a chance to experience it also.”

As the students move forward, Abel said she hopes they value the experience of “being given the reigns” to their education, and become fully engaged “global citizens” by using their voices to inspire change.

Echoing this vision, Mazz said the students can also point to John Mayer’s song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” which the class analyzed at the beginning of the year as inspiration for the future. “That’s one of the things we hope they got from it,” he said, “is that they think things are changing, and they’re not going to change unless you step up.”