Be an Earth Superhero at West Broadway Middle School

What does being an Earth Superhero look like? At West Broadway Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island, Earth Superheros look like students speaking up about issues they care about — like recycling and protecting Earth’s natural resources.

This is the second year that 5th grade teacher Hilary Lundgren has taught the Be An Earth Superhero Project, and the first year for her co-teacher Shannon Cavallaro. Their fifth graders are making their voices heard through short infomercials, sharing their ideas about recycling and why it’s important to take care of Earth for current and future generations.

“There’s so much more student buy-in with projects; they’re talking to one another and being supportive.”

Learning through projects is something that all West Broadway fifth graders are introduced to as part of the Summit Learning approach, which the middle school has used for the past three years. The school has expanded the program to a new grade each year, and all students in grades 5-8 will be using Summit Learning in the 2019-20 school year.

“There’s so much more student buy-in with projects; they’re talking to one another and being supportive,” shared Shannon. “It’s great to see the progression from the very first project to now.”

The infomercial as a final product was a new idea this year, an adjustment from Hilary’s experience teaching the project last school year. Students were divided into five groups, each focused on researching a natural Earth resource and why recycling is important in protecting that resource.

Students worked together to research and write out a script. Shannon and Hilary then taught students how to use a green screen app on their iPads. In late March, students started recording and editing their infomercials.

The more hands-on activities a project involves, the better, said Shannon: “Hands-on projects have the best outcome, and it’s what the students remember the most — they better grasp the material.”

This spring, students have taken ownership of their learning as Earth Superheros. One group was so passionate about the idea of whole-school recycling that they talked to their Principal in Residence Cassandra Johns. They even created a PowerPoint in preparation for making their arguments.

The students’ commitment and energy is contagious, said Shannon: “They really want to make an impact — their infomercial involved interviewing [Vice Principal Johns] about the importance of recycling. They’re spearheading recycling for the whole school and invested in it.”

And, an extra pair of helping hands never hurts in a project-based learning classroom. This year, Hilary and Shannon were lucky to have the help of Ady, a high-school intern from the Met High School in Providence.

“Hands-on projects have the best outcome, and it’s what the students remember the most — they better grasp the material.”

Internships are embedded in the Met’s approach to education. The opportunity to help out in an elementary classroom was a best-fit for Ady, now in her sophomore year and with dreams of becoming a pediatrician after graduating college. While she’s too young to intern at a clinic, Ady says that working with elementary-age students offers a great way to learn how to communicate with younger children.

As a Spanish speaker, Ady specifically helped students whose first language is Spanish. Learning how to speak a new language is a full-time job, and Ady uses her own experiences to help these learners. “I use sticky notes to write vocabulary words of things around us, [in and out of the classroom],” explained Ady. “Students grab those sticky notes when they recognize an object that goes with the word, and then practice saying those words in English.”

For the Earth Superhero project, Ady helped her group research and translate ideas from English to Spanish. Students then wrote and performed their infomercial in Spanish. “The students opened up to me… it was fun see to them loosen up,” said Ady.

With the help of Ady translating, fifth graders Raquel and Andrid shared why they felt this project is important: “Because pollution [from too much waste] contaminates the Earth, which contaminate us, and animals, and other living things.”

The most challenging part of the project for Raquel and Andrid? Performing the final script. They weren’t always sure which movements or gestures would help them communicate their message.

But Raquel and Andrid both agree that acting out the script was also their favorite part of the project. They’d like to do another infomercial on global warming and study how different greenhouse gases, including those produced when humans burn materials in factories, impact the Earth. Keep an eye out for more from these Earth Superheros in 2019-20!

Hear students and teachers share their stories and favorite projects on the Summit Learning YouTube channel

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.