The Middle School was a slightly hazardous place to visit in mid-March. 

You ran the risk of being hit by long range paper airplanes, out in front of the school. Upstairs, you had to navigate through a giant pile of newspaper, dodge a Ping-Pong ball and watch your step for errant marbles. 

Why did we subject ourselves to this, you might ask?

Into the World and Beyond

My husband and I have wondered what we could do to help equip our daughters as they continue through school and out into the world beyond. Besides the concrete skills of piano playing, reading and writing, swimming, math, etc, what are they learning—at home, at church at school, and elsewhere?

It turns out that we aren’t the only ones who are trying to figure this out. As a middle school staff, we are reading How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, which describes how successful people tend to share certain characteristics, including things like self-control, creativity, curiosity, optimism, and grit. 

With that in mind, I attended a workshop by teachers from Nanaimo Christian School at the CTABC convention last October called Strongest, Fastest, Farthest, on a middle school unit in which students explored the idea of perseverance by working through scientific processes—getting out of their classrooms and going beyond our usual academic endeavours. As a grade 8 team, we decided to try our own version, in the form of week-long project, just before spring break. 

Marbles, Paper Airplanes and Creativity

Here’s where we started…

In groups, we asked the students to build a track, that would take exactly 15 seconds for a marble to navigate, using nothing more than a piece of poster board, tape, and a paper cup. This task needed to be completed before the group could move on to the next task.

For some groups, this came pretty easily. They came up with a concept, developed a working model, and then tweaked it until they successfully reached their goal in an hour or so.

But for other groups, this became a rather longer-term task than they would have liked. Hours later, one lone group was still (not so hard) at work on it, while all of the others had gone outside to develop some pretty serious paper airplane engineering skills on a beautiful sunny morning.

This is where creativity, optimism, and grit really became important.

At long last, the straggler group pulled it together, finished the task, and moved on to paper airplane design. Then they surprised themselves – before long, they had put together a great plane, completed the paper airplane challenge, and jumped right past many of their classmates.

According to one student, “The part that brought the most perseverance in me was the paper airplanes because I started them right away and I still have yet to finish. I got more frustrated as it got farther into the day because I was getting tired and hungry. It’s also discouraging watching everyone finish before you.”

Keep Calm, You can do it!

Things get a little crazy sometimes when middle school students are involved, and this unit was no exception. Besides creating absolute mayhem in the halls and in our classrooms, we watched some videos, planned a chapel to share highlights of our week, and spent time journaling and talking about perseverance.

A few highlights include:

“The thing that gave me the most perseverance was doing the marble drop and not getting frustrated that the tape wouldn’t work and just sticking through it until we found a way to fix the problem. The best thing about solving problems with perseverance is the sense of accomplishment when you finish it. Also, that you realize how much fun it is when you finish it. What I have learned about working with other people in a group is that you have to respect their ideas and not just do yours.”

“Activities like this teach students to persevere by putting them in groups out of their friendship circles so that they kind of have to stay calm. Otherwise they might yell at someone and hurt their feelings even more than if it was your friend.”

And students aren’t the only ones learning about perseverance around ACMS these days! 

Hopefully the day will come when we don’t find any more spitballs around our classrooms…