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Showing their independence

posted: Mon, Dec 19th, 2016

This Independence Day, the fireworks were of the intellectual kind. Independence Day at MOMS was a day in which students celebrated their ability to think and work independently, with minimal direction. The teachers lit the fuse and the mental rockets blasted off further than anyone imagined.

In preparation, the teachers in each grade level crafted a deep, thoughtful question that could be examined in different ways in the four core subject areas. On Independence Day, students followed their class schedules as they normally would and researched and discussed the language arts, math, science, and social studies facets of their overarching questions.  

Sixth grade teachers, for example, chose the question "What are the implications of people living to be 200 years old?" 

In language arts, the sixth-graders brainstormed how communication would change and researched what the cognitive impacts would be. In math, students calculated the Earth's population if a sudden breakthrough allowed people to live vastly longer lives. In science, students researched and brainstormed how the Earth would change, how natural resources and other species would be impacted, and the types of medical needs and advances that would be required. In social studies, students explored how civilizations and the needs of its citizens would change. (See the bottom of the article for the other grades.) 

While each grade level, subject, and even individual teachers varied the types of activities that students were asked to do in order to show what they had learned, the day as a whole focused the kids on the control they have of their own learning. They developed critical thinking skills, creativity, leadership, and the interpersonal skills needed to work well with others.

The type of hands-on, active learning featured on Independence Day was really nothing new at MOMS. Over the past three years in particular, it's become more and more common. But having each grade focus on a single topic for an entire day provided a unique experience.

"It was really interesting," sixth-grader Larissa King said about her Independence Day experience. "You're doing the work yourself and coming up with your own ideas. We were able to do a lot more by spending so much time on one topic. We really got to know it deep down." 

At the end of the day, it was evident that students were mastering their topics and were pulling together learning from one subject area and applying it in another.

"Their discussions and ideas just grew and grew exponentially," said teacher Stephanie Tarnowski. "The kids were amazing. The things came up with really showed how much thought and enthusiasm they put in."


Seventh grade: "Should people be required to research the traits and needs of animal species before they adopt a pet?" In language arts, students researched whether purebred animals have too many health problems to be pets and wrote about the topic using relevants, concrete details, and quotations. panels. In math, students calculated which pets would be the most economical to own, factoring in such things as life spans, medical costs, and living needs. In science, students examined how exotic pets would react if set free. In social studies, students examined how certain pets would fit various lifestyles and examined the character traits and needs of different breeds. 

Eighth grade: "Should Mount Olive Middle School install solar panels?" In language arts, students researched the pros and cons of solar panels, and wrote about them. In math, students calculated the cost benefits. In science, they researched how a photovoltaic cell works. In social studies, they looked at the origin and evolution of solar power.

photo courtesy of Ron Chicken

Mount Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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