That simple question yielded a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary study of Miss Mitchell’s life and contributions to WT, led by the fifth-grade students of Karen Gaul and Brian Swauger. And, true to the progressive ideas and ideals of Miss Mitchell herself, the study—known as the Miss Mitchell Project—was anything but ordinary.
“The project asked both students and teachers to break out of traditional roles,” explains Gaul. “Students brainstormed ways that we, their teachers, might act as facilitators as they prepared to direct projects. Rather than pre-plan lessons, teachers prepared for their role as facilitators by listening, as students generated questions about Miss Mitchell and ideas for projects.”
Working in groups, students researched Miss Mitchell then determined how they would express their learning. Projects included a Miss Mitchell play, a movie, a statue, a song with a choreographed dance, an art project, and a computer science project. Besides Gaul and Swauger, teacher facilitators included specialists Kristen Keller, Kassandra Humberson ’08, Janna Lettan, Kate Gugliotta, and Rebecca Farrand. The six-week project emphasized skills connected to project-based learning, such as planning, sustained inquiry, reflection, and revision.
“This project was a fantastic opportunity not only for students to learn about the history of the school, but also for us teachers to develop our ability to collaborate between disciplines,” says Swauger. “I also learned that the students can be tasked to do more than I often give them credit for, and that they can take control when given the opportunity. This is something I can bring back into my everyday teaching.”
“This project had a huge impact on my teaching,” adds Gaul. “First of all, it was really challenging to step back from being the leader. Facilitating was both stressful (at times I was certain students were not on the right track and had to bite my tongue not to redirect) and, at the same time, really fun!”