The Family Box Project and Robotics Projects Share the Spotlight in 6th Grade
While we were all gaga with the holidays, the 6th grade team quietly showed us what it means to evolve curriculum.
For years, students have curated their family stories—represented through priceless artifacts including recipes, letters, photos, clothing, and awards—and tucked them thoughtfully into unique boxes. Visitors walked the rows of hat boxes, suitcases, piano benches, and guitar cases of the Family Box Project to learn the fascinating stories. As they unpacked their stories for museum visitors, students claimed their family histories and invited peers to relate to them in richer ways.
This year was no exception: there was much joy in their voices—as she offered cups of mango lassi to visitors or he pulled a stuffed animal from his case—and also so much poise as they illuminated their heritage in the retelling of a generations-old family story.
And yet, for the first time, just across the hallway (and throughout the 6th grade wing), students were telling much newer stories, too. There, they held not timeworn Titanic tickets or a WWII air force helmet but rather circuitry and the LEDs for handcrafted Martian lander models. Students conceptualized, built, and coded their own robotic landers for a Mars landing coinciding beautifully with the landing of NASA’s Insight probe.
“Often, people are of the mindset that there is opposition between the humanities and science and technology,” said Middle School computer science and English teacher Laura Loftus. “And yet, in both showcases, students are really telling a story. In these types of project-based learning—whether high tech or low tech—it’s the student-as-creator role that invites them to demonstrate their understanding.”
In creating the prototypes for their landers—one of which was named “Steve”—students crafted a narrative in answer to guiding questions: How would the lander interact with the Martian environment? How would it communicate a message of peace? How would it collect data? On the day of the showcase, students again demonstrated the poise to articulate how the probe functioned and, when it behaved otherwise, had the wherewithal to repair code on the spot.
As students flowed effortlessly between the box projects and their Mars probes, articulating what they had learned about their pasts and our shared future, they provided a clue for how we move forward as a learning community.
First, stay relevant—to our personal stories and to the changing world we live in. Next, reflect patiently—select the story that needs our careful crafting or retelling. Finally, engage joyfully—invite the excitement of curiosity-driven learning. In showcasing these two projects concurrently, the 6th grade showed us not only how to treasure our most-beloved traditions but also to embrace new ones.
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.
Georgetown Day School is a coed, preK-12, non-sectarian private school in Washington, DC with small class sizes and a diverse school community. Our comprehensive, innovative curriculum includes hands-on learning, honors and AP classes, as well as advanced-level math and STEM courses. An education is not just college prep and SAT scores. GDS teachers focus on providing the best education for each child, from elementary grades through high school. The school performing arts program includes theater, dance, and music. The athletics program offers competitive sports for student athletes, including cross-country, track, soccer, lacrosse, and crew/rowing. With our strong commitment to financial aid, an independent school tuition is affordable.