By LINDSAY CAREY
Two social studies teachers at each of the local middle schools orchestrated a unique collaborative research project between DePaolo Middle School and John F. Kennedy Middle School.
DePaolo Social Studies Teacher Patricia Kenefick, DePaolo Literacy Specialist Jean Graff and John F. Kennedy Middle School social studies teacher Amy Fontaine worked together to put 100 students into 25 groups. Each group was tasked with covering a country from North Africa or the Middle East. They were charged with researching that country in their textbooks and on the internet.
Each student in the group chose to research a different aspect of life in the country, like religion, education, government, sports, and fashion as reporters in a recorded newscast. The result was a collaborative multi-media effort.
“They each had things that they had to do, and then they put the whole thing together after their research to write up a script and put on the show,” said Kenefick.
In addition to recording the newscast, the students used laptops provided by the school to edit their projects on iMovie. They also made short movie trailers using iMovie to preview some of the things they would talk about in their newscast.
“I like to incorporate the technology now that we have it,” said Kenefick, whose students are going to be making their own websites in their next unit of study, South Africa. “The kids are so into technology, so it sparks learning in the classroom.”
For the viewing of the newscasts, the students brought in food from their country and some also wore the traditional dress of that country.
Not only did the students exercise their research skills and working together as a group, they also used an internet chat to correspond and compare information with students working on the same project at the other middle school.
“They learned how to comment and help each other out across town with their projects,” said Kenefick.
Many of the students said that they learned a lot about other cultures from this project, things that were not familiar to them growing up in America.
“It was really interesting because we got to learn about what life was like in these countries, and it was very different from our life here,” said Lili McKinstry, who covered Afghanistan. “We got to learn what the education was like there and the religion, and how their government works, the kind of sports that the play and the food that they eat. It was really cool.”
Some students said they realized how much more freedom people have in America than in other countries.
“We learned about how their governments run and how they dress—like what the women can wear and what they can’t wear—and how much more rights the men have over the women,” said DePaolo student Kyle Buchanan, who covered Syria. “It’s a lot different there than it is here because women have a lot more rights in the U.S. Women can wear what they want here, but there they can’t show any body parts but their eyes [in Syria].”
Learning about these countries also brought up some eye-opening realizations for the students about how difficult life can be outside of the U.S.
“We also found out about the struggles they have,” said DePaolo student Mackenzie Brown. “In Morroco, many people have died of hunger or thirst because the government is not able to produce enough money.”
Other students said that they realized the difference in customs and traditions in the everyday life of the people like how in some countries the norm is to eat on the floor using your hands rather than utensils.
“I thought it was cool to compare like what times they go to school and what times we go to school—if they even have school,” said DePaolo student Lauryn Reinhardt. “I also learned that in our winter it’s their summer, so they go different months than us.”
One student said she learned a lot just by collaborating with other students throughout the project, and she said that watching other group’s newscasts was a major highlight of the project.
“I really liked watching other people’s newscasts, because it was different than how we did ours,” said DePaolo student Sarah McAuliffe. “It was cool seeing how other people did it and what they brought in to show about their countries.”
Overall, this multi-faceted project led students to look at people who are different than them in a more positive light.
“Even though the people are different than us, I feel like that their culture is special because they’re one-of-a-kind,” said DePaolo student Jeanes Nguyen. “They get to celebrate a type of tradition that’s unique, and they get to do it with their family.”