Construction Project Builds Connections Between the Classroom and Real World
By Maggie Pilloton, Kite Writer/Editor

When MCDS math teacher John Lynch set out to incorporate the construction happening on the Upper School part of the MCDS campus last year into his curriculum, he had a plan. He wanted to teach his students about scale by looking at Truebeck Construction’s architectural and engineering drawings for the new science building. He also had a plan about what he hoped the students would take away from this project.

“I think that for the students to see how essential math is to the construction project provides one answer to the question, ‘Why do we need to learn this?’ I also hope they are picking up, to some degree, the amount of care and forethought that goes into building the science building they will occupy and use,” he said.

At MCDS, our mission is to "create an inclusive community of learning that inspires curiosity, empathy, and action." The Creekside building project presented John and other MCDS teachers with the opportunity to expand and re-tool parts of their curriculum. It provided an opportunity for our teachers and students to attempt to answer the oft-asked question “Why do we need to learn this?” while simultaneously reinforcing our core values of curiosity, empathy, and action. Incorporating the construction on campus into curriculum was a way for our teachers to show students a connection between what they're learning in the classroom and the real world.

In kindergarten, for example, students learn how an economy works on a small scale during their farm unit. As the designated dairy farm of the group last school year, the Hickory room students learned how to buy land for their farm, work various jobs on the farm, customize their property based on their needs and surroundings, and even learned how to manage weather conditions.

Through a tour of the construction site and a visit from a parent who works at Truebeck, the kindergartners were able to use what they learned to build their individual farmhouses and community kitchen. While studying the architectural plans, one of the students noticed, “It’s kind of like the life cycle of the building,” which tied into their unit of learning the life cycle of a butterfly.

Through the inherent aspects of exploration and creative play found in their farm unit, the kindergartners also learned valuable life lessons such as how to be a part of a community, how to support people in need, and how to work together. 

“There’s a lot of focus on reading and phonics, but it’s so important to keep that imagination, play, and creativity element. Some kids thrive on it,” said kindergarten teacher Christina Hale. “I have had the honor of witnessing magic during our farm time. For example, we simulated rain by spraying their faces with water. That’s what they will remember.”

This project is one that, hopefully, the kindergarten students will remember years from now when they walk through the new science building for the first time as Upper Schoolers. These lifelong memories will continue to inspire curiosity and challenge them to have empathy and take action. And one that will encourage them to look at the world differently than they did before.

Science teacher Liz Zavattero considers this to be the goal of MCDS’s science program: to allow the students to look at the world differently. She experienced this with her third grade students last year when they learned about electricity and solar energy.

Through investigation, the third graders learned how electricity travels underground and how the new science building will fuel our campus and beyond through solar energy. The third graders also went on a tour of the construction site, where they saw the path of the electricity from the street to the distribution board to the power poles. As Liz explained, “it helped make the invisible visible.”

This concept allows the students to look at their surroundings and notice things that they might not have noticed before. They can articulate what they see around them and make connections that they haven’t before. 

“This kind of work energizes the students. It has meaning in their life directly. They see how much it makes sense. They see our school doing the right thing, and they get to see people they look up to making decisions that they understand and also believe in,” Liz said.

Why do we need to learn this? As educators, our role is to teach. And inspire. As Liz alluded to, it’s also to instill bigger community values such as curiosity, empathy, and action. And that can be done through any subject.

“My goal as an educator is to make the world a better place," said Lower School science teacher Sharon Barnett. “Lifelong healthy habits begin with adults as role models." 

Through her work with the second graders, Sharon wanted to build more of a connection between something that’s happening on their campus and a "big picture" view of what’s going on outside of MCDS. Sharon teaches second graders about geology and the water cycle, subjects they were able to learn more about because of the construction project. 

Sharon coordinated with Scott Tarr and Hannah Witherspoon from Truebeck to arrange a classroom visit with the second graders. In addition to taking students on tours of the construction site, Scott and Hannah also visited fifth grade classrooms. They spoke to students about the importance of environmental responsibility, how construction can affect the environment, how to preserve the creek and the soil, and how to promote growth back onto the hillside around the new building. 

Scott emphasized to the students that "we focus on the preservation of what was there before. We don’t want to let the building impact the campus’ connection to nature.”  

At MCDS, we feel that it is our responsibility as a community to take care of what is around us. And to teach our students the importance of stewardship. This project and its impact extend far beyond the classroom.

“Students will have a stronger connection to the building now that they have met the project engineers and understand their commitment to the environment,” Sharon said. “They might not remember their names or remember all the details, but they do know a woman and man are working to make a safe building for us and for the wildlife that inhabit the land, creek, and bay. 

“Some of our students will remember meeting a female engineer. This might empower a new generation of female engineers. And lastly, our students have learned about another way we steward our land. When a person learns about a place and its value, they tend to take care of it.”

For both teachers and students, establishing that connection between what’s happening on campus and the real world is vital. Through the construction project, students nourished their curiosities. They learned about having empathy and appreciation for the people working hard around them and for the natural beauty of their campus. And they learned how they can be environmentally responsible and take action to make their communities better.

“We want to continue to show our community what we care about. It’s important for the internal and the greater community,” said Liz Zavattero. “Kids need hope. They hear a lot of devastating news about the environment. It can make them feel discouraged about their future or grown-ups, in general. The more that we can give them hope, the more we can establish our core values at school, and the more we walk the talk.”