Solar homes are taking shape, simple machines are growing into complex machines, and experiments are running as hypotheses are being tested. It’s December, which means it’s Mini-term at DCD.  

Walking through the labs, you will find students designing, researching, and testing.  What kind of design or materials will enable their solar homes to bank and use the sunlight most efficiently? One group of students was busy filling cardboard tubes with cotton balls to create insulated walls. A trio of students were gluing reflective material on the roof to maintain a cool temperature inside their home.  A 6th grade student lined up a series of vegetables to identify which one yielded the highest electrical charge.
Between Thanksgiving and winter break, students in the middle school embark on DCD’s Mini-term curriculum, which is designed to allow students to dive into specific subjects in science and humanities in a deep and focused way. For this three-week period, the daily schedule changes to allow for longer class periods where more focused discussions, research, and project work can take place.
In science, Grade 6 students pose a question or hypothesis about a science related topic of their choosing and then devise their own experiments for testing, analyzing, and presenting.  Grade 7 students study solar power and then design and build models for their own solar homes. Utilizing their study of simple machines from the fall curriculum, Grade 8 students design, construct, and test their own complex machines, which are required to complete a task independent of human intervention!

In humanities, DCD’s history and English faculty collaborate to team-teach a combined and impactful curriculum for each middle school grade. “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzae serves as the centerpiece for the 6th grade humanities theme of activism.  Grade 7 students are introduced to the Civil Rights Movement through a survey of events and discussions.  And leveraging what they learned from the previous year, Grade 8 students narrow their focus on the Civil Rights Movement studying the Little Rock Nine and the desegregation of Central High School.

Peer to peer learning happens throughout the year at DCD, and it is a key part of mini-term’s success. In addition to it’s project-based learning model, Mini-term offers a concentrated opportunity for students to connect, to encourage, and to collaborate with each other.  Though 8th graders are responsible for their own individual complex machines, if you visit a class, you will see one student helping a classmate install a pulley, or another holding up a lever while her classmate operates the glue gun. The solar home builders each have different approaches to retaining heat, but by sharing their lab bench, they may learn a new refinement.

Allison Webster, DCD’s head of school, says “learning is social.” Relationships are critical for ideas and knowledge to develop and flourish in children. When students connect with each other, they begin to iterate on their own ideas taking what they know as individuals and testing and shaping it with a larger group. This process helps students build their own understanding and learning. In addition, when children feel a sense of place, their minds are free to get down to the business of learning rather trying to understand “where do I fit in?” In DCD’s classrooms and labs, children do feel a sense of place. Walking through the middle school during DCD’s mini-term, this idea that learning is social truly comes to life.