Project Based Learning in the Middle School

Eve Therrien
Over the last few months, the Middle School at ISN Nice has worked on project based and inquiry based units in part from Edustem/Cura Education (1) and from our teachers. Fully resourced, each unit apprehends real world problems that ignite student’s curiosity. We asked our ISN Nice teacher's for their feedback on project based learning:
Victor Fernandez, French and Grade 7 homeroom teacher, enjoys teaching these units. He says; "PBL proposes a modern and efficient approach of teaching and learning. Their project-based units are clear, interesting and easy to adapt. The points system sparks enthusiasm among the students and really motivates them. I can see that they are more proactive and engaged as they enjoy this progressive, independent and concrete learning." 
Nathalie Senat, Special Need Coordinator and Grade 6 homeroom teacher, uses PBL in her PSHE class with her homeroom called My Restaurant Rules. The Restaurant Rules begins by reviewing food nutrition and how important it is to eat a well balanced diet in order to maintain a healthy body and mind. Following this, students will have to design a brochure or a poster in their teams, promoting healthy eating which they will present to the other students. The end goal is to put together a menu whilst considering safety and hygiene in their 'virtual restaurant'. The intention is to present the different menus to the other students. At the end of the project, it is hoped that students would have become more aware about healthy eating by considering the different functions of vitamins and how they are absorbed in the body, as well as develop skills in team work, responsibility, organisation, meeting deadlines, independent learning and metacognition.
A group of Middle School Students hold up homemade toothbrushes as part of a project about the Black Death
Pupils in Grade 7 Humanities are in the midst of a PBL project comparing the Black Death with COVID-19, led by Rachel Jagger: “Students have analysed living conditions, health and hygiene in the Medieval Ages and as part of their assessment created a historically accurate replica of a medieval toothbrush from twigs and leaves. Pupils have also considered the causes, symptoms and treatments of the Black Death and will progress onto comparing the two pandemics before reaching a conclusion on which was the worst.”
Grade 8 in PSHE are also busy planning their own Start-Up company in PSHE. Pupils have considered what a start-up company is and what skills are necessary to be an entrepreneur. In the coming weeks Grade 8 will begin to plan a presentation on why entrepreneurship is good for the individual, the community and the world and then they will create a profile on one of the world's leading entrepreneurs.
Other PBL units are being written as we speak. In Science, for example, pupils will be looking at a project on the extinction of the Northern White Rhino is inspired by an essay written by Sam Anderson that takes a look at the life of the last two Northern White Rhinos in the world. Karen Singer, Science coordinator, has proposed for many years PBL to our Grade 8 students based on three projects. She says "We have a short transdisciplinary unit with biology/geography surrounding the Mediterranean sea that culminates with an underwater visit in the natural environment.
Two Middle School female students in snorkels and wetsuits hold red starfish in the water
This is followed by a longer 6 week unit on energy where students explore one of 5 different environments to establish renewable energy. Students design the size and type of habitation followed by determining a clean way to supply energy to support the needs of the inhabitants. Finally, a semester long project is built around forensic science. Students learn about the science of criminal investigations, the techniques used to uncover and analyze clues, and finally solve a complicated crime complete with suspects and multiple crime scenes.”
Rachel Jagger (Humanities) and Victor Fernandez (French) are currently creating units for Edustem/Cura that will be shared with their worldwide community. Rachel’s project is “...around the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in the 20th Century. Students will consider the context of the Holocaust and consider how Anti-Semitism increased and resulted in the death of approximately 6 million Jewish people across Europe. The unit aims to bring a humanistic and holistic approach to genocide studies by considering what life was like for Jewish families across Europe before the war and the implementation of increasing restrictions to their lives in Germany under the Nuremberg Laws. The unit will then span out to consider a broader European perspective when considering ghettoization, the Holocaust by bullets and the implementation of the Final Solution across Europe. Students will then examine a further genocide that happened in the 20th Century, considering its causes, events and consequences (Myanmar Rohingya) followed by a discussion and investigation on how a country may allow a genocide to occur. Students may consider threats to democracy such as the riots in the Capitol in January 2021 and increasing restrictive laws in China.”
Meanwhile, Victor’s project challenges students to answer the driving question: Is there one Creole voice? “As a team, they should conduct an inquiry into ‘Voix créoles’. They will develop an understanding of what this means and decide if various voices (explored through a selection of texts) naturally combine to form one Creole voice. They will work together to define the concept and write a set of guidelines for a competition that has ‘Creole voice’ as its theme, which will be debated in class through a diplomatic process. They become creators who make their own text to be entered into the Creole Voices competition, that they will lead themselves and present in front of a guest specialist.”
(1)To learn more, visit