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posted: Wed, Apr 3rd, 2019

Puzzling their peers

Escape rooms are all the rage, even inspiring a horror film released earlier in the year. A group of MOMS eighth-graders discovered that escape rooms can be just as fun to plan and create as they are to complete.

Karen LaValley’s Project Impact class worked in small groups and developed escape rooms for fellow students to complete during their Lunch & Leisure time. Each of the five escape rooms was held in the library and had a specific theme such as “bank heist” and “panic room.” A kickoff clue or riddle started each escape room and each clue led to the location of the next clue hidden somewhere in the library. From there it was a battle of wits, gamemasters versus game players. 

“It was fun to plan because you get to be creative and use your imagination,” said Isabella Castaneda. “And you get to see how hard or how easy you made it for others.”

In their Disney-themed escape room, Marissa Corso, Lara Grosskopf, and Sara Tennyson tested player knowledge of Disney movies and characters. Disney figurines from the girls’ personal collections were placed in the library next to written clues sealed in small invitation envelopes. The answer to each clue provided the name of the next Disney character that had to be located and thus, the next clue.

The final “key” to escape was using the first letter of the names of the 12 Disney character to complete a URL for a website the students created. Once done, the player was greeted with a celebratory message heralding the successful escape.

The level of detail that Marissa, Lara, and Sara put into the project gave their escape room a definite polish. The clue cards were laminated, for example, and famous Disney songs were played to further immerse the escapees in the Disney experience. The students also asked players to complete a Google Form so they could collect feedback that would help them improve the escape room for future participants.

Mrs. LaValley coordinated the activity with David Eisenberg, library media specialist. They visited Mountain View to observe the teacher-designed escape rooms frequently used there and collaborated on the best ways to bring the creative experience to MOMS students.

Dhruv Raghuraman practices his Google presentation

Students teach teachers a variety of Google apps

Mount Olive Middle School students in the Aspire gifted and talented program switched places with teachers to deliver tips and tricks on using Google applications.

Google provides at no cost a suite of web-based applications to teachers and students. The centerpiece is Google Classroom, a tool that helps students and teachers organize assignments and communicate with each other 

The service also includes Google Drive (cloud storage), Docs (word processing), Slides (presentations), Forms, and Sheets (spreadsheets). These five were the subjects of the student-led training.  

The students focused their sessions on one or two tasks such as creating tables in Docs, using transitions and videos in Slides, and converting and organizing files offline in Drive. With adviser David Eisenberg, MOMS’ library media specialist, the students practiced and distilled their presentations down to about 15 minutes. 

“These are the kids who get ahold of technology and just naturally want to learn everything about it,” said Mr. Eisenberg of his Aspire students. “I thought it was a perfect way for them to practice presenting to small groups and also provide some helpful tips they’ve learned.” 

The sessions were held in the library during lunch periods and other times when students were not in class. Teachers brought laptops or used ones available in the library to follow along step by step.

The role reversal, with students teaching adults, took kids some time to adjust to. 

“It was weird at first,” said Dhruv Raghuraman. “I wasn’t quite used to teachers coming to me and asking questions. But it was definitely fun.”

Students received such glowing reviews that other sessions were scheduled as word spread.

“Dhruv was a great Google app trainer,” said Deborah Whelan. “He showed us ways to make our transition to Google with easy to follow steps. He answered all questions and also ones that were related to other Google topics.” 

District administrators have made it a priority to help all teachers master Google for Education. Numerous professional development sessions have been held and teachers have been encouraged to become certified Google educators. The initiative helps strengthen the district’s drive to more effectively utilize technology to meet the unique learning needs of students. 

Keys to Kindness brings child center kids to MOMS

Preschoolers from Mount Olive Child Care & Learning Center discovered the Keys to Kindness in the MOMS library.

Two groups of children from the center worked with MOMS sixth-graders from the Six Pillars of Character class on activities that highlighted easy ways to bring kindness into the world. Led by student Danny D’Amico, master of ceremonies, the MOMS students spoke to the child care kids about the nine keys to kindness that are stressed at the center, including smiling, encouraging friends, offering help, sharing, and listening to others. The students engaged the children in discussions about the importance of showing kindness and elicited from them examples of times they have displayed the nine keys.

There was also an interactive component to the presentations. David Eisenberg, library media specialist and technology whiz, helped the class develop the hands-on piece which used the library’s interactive white board.

Then the kids were off to find the actual keys: laminated cards with key symbols and the names of the behaviors/traits hidden throughout the library.

Teacher Karen LaValley was inspired to create the keys to kindness program after seeing a poster listing the nine keys on a wall at the center. The program not only reinforced the positive behavior that the kids are learning but also helped her own students grow. 

“My students learned the importance of being a positive role model,” said Mrs. LaValley. “Working with the little ones was a great life lesson about patience and kindness and showing compassion.” 

The Keys to Kindness program was run twice at MOMS with two different groups of preschoolers. The first group of kids had so much fun, the center decided to repeat the visit with another group. According to the event host, the experience was equally enjoyable for the sixth-graders.

“This was awesome,” Danny said. “It was just fun to plan and do. But it was really about them and what they need to learn.”

Ambassadors from MOMS win awards

All seven teams of MOMS gifted and talented students earned awards at the Junior Model United Nations Conference at Drew University. The groups were honored for diplomacy and outstanding position papers.

The model U.N. gave students an opportunity to immerse themselves in issues now facing the world and a chance to practice the art of negotiation. The students were divided into delegations from different countries. Each delegation addressed one of three global problems that are among the real U.N.’s global priorities: food sustainability, gender equality, and affordable and clean energy. The young diplomats spent months researching their countries and designated issues, then wrote draft position papers and resolutions that they would like to see passed.

Once at Drew, MOMS’ delegations met with like delegations from other New Jersey middle schools to hammer out the content and wording of final resolutions that would be later voted on by the model U.N. General Assembly. The research that the students conducted and the statistics they compiled for their position papers provided the MOMS’ delegations with the power to make compelling, evidence-based arguments.

“I feel we did a lot more research than everyone else,” said Emily Aghabi, a member of the German delegation which won an award for outstanding position paper. “We were really prepared.”

It was hours of debating, collaborating, and compromising as the delegations tried to realistically represent the unique positions and interests of the countries they represented. 

After the resolutions were finalized, it was time for the main event. One school delegation from each subcommittee spoke at the General Assembly and answered questions about its proposed resolution. Not all resolutions were greeted warmly. While it was disappointing for some students to see their hard work turned down by the other delegates, after the conference all the MOMS students understood that the experience was the important part.

“It showed us how hard it is for a lot of people with a lot of different points of view to agree on anything,” said Daria Cucu, part of the delegation representing China.

Ann Greszczak teaches the MOMS gifted and talented program. Before the competition, she led students on a field trip to the United Nations in New York to help them better understand its importance and the way it functions.

The Junior Model United Nations Conference is an annual event sponsored by the New Jersey Consortium of Gifted and Talented Programs and Drew University’s Political Science and International Relations Department.

Mount Olive Middle School
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