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Exploring Identity: Middle School 

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Middle School reimagines and enhances electives during COVID and beyond.

Just as the world switched to meetings and get-togethers online, so did classes due to COVID-19. For electives, that meant it wasn’t safe for students to play their instruments in the same space or share paints in the art room. The ceramics wheels sat empty, and the band room remained quiet. In response, LJCDS reimagined the Middle School electives and leveraged educators’ talents by piloting Exploring Identity. The new interdisciplinary program allows students to continue exploring interests outside of the traditional academic courses while also applying meaning to their work and examining larger concepts.

The Exploring Identity course includes a core team of interdisciplinary educators from design and innovation, library, life skills, service-learning, and visual and performing arts.  

Essential questions like “What is a belief system?” are weaved into the lesson, helping students move further along in their development in global education, anti-racist and inclusive practices. Each discipline provides a balance between intellectual and emotional knowledge so that every student can develop into their authentic selves and honor their creativity and contributions to creating an inclusive society. Asking meaningful and open-ended questions is at the heart of the learning process.

“We allow the students to see themselves as experts in their world,” shares Head Librarian Rafa Eaton. “Through authentic inquiry, answers aren’t the goal. Answers are everywhere. My goal is to teach students how to build questions. You will never get the right answer unless you know what questions to ask. Having the space to think about these things through their own work or conception of the world is a callback to the school’s founding values and [LJCDS founder] Louise Balmer’s vision.”

One of the essential questions, “What is culture?” goes beyond a simple dictionary definition. Students may discuss how culture shapes people and the varying traditions, including dance, music, food, celebrations, art, language, clothing, beliefs, religion, values, behaviors, history, locations and narratives. 

Below is a sample of the class projects:

Sense of Smell
Art, library and service-learning collaborated on a project to explore how smell influences historical and current societies through culture, food, identity, relationships, and more, culminating in students creating a personal scent.

Thoughtful Innovation
When learning technical skills in the design and innovation lab, students are challenged to create meaningful work that challenges their perspective. Students identified overlooked entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds and designed plaques about them using the laser cutter.

Expression Through Music
Connecting through music starts with discussions surrounding perspective and narrative. Students depicted a scene called “The Storm” with sounds they created using plastic bags, paper, strainer, fan, weights, bass drum, water bottle and more. The rain and thunder sounds are recorded using an online platform and shared in class.

Creating Perspective
Students rewrote Little Red Riding Hood from different character perspectives, which gave them a better understanding of how storytelling can influence the reader’s response, inspire specific feelings, and generate opinions about the backgrounds of the characters.

Identity Through Visual Art-Making
When thinking through image-making, students explore drawings as symbols and communication tools. Sketchbook projects, developing new worlds through Minecraft, and translating sketchbook ideas through Wacom tablets have helped students connect to 2D media.

During a time when connecting can be challenging, Exploring Identity creates multiple layers for students to get to know themselves and each other. Students are offered a safe space to develop and deepen their understanding of important ideas and process their learning. The questions, discussions and activities promote creativity, confidence-building and a sense of community while also increasing students’ awareness of and empathy for the world around them. 

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