Culbreth Eighth Grade Students Showcase English Language Arts Presentations
North Carolina Representative Verla Insko was one of many visitors to the media center to participate in the interactive presentations by Helen Motta’s eighth grade language arts students at Culbreth Middle School (CMS) on January 18. For five class periods throughout the day, groups of students set up tri-fold displays that captured weeks of research and problem-solving, and they delivered brief informational speeches, as well as answered questions from the visitors. Rep. Insko arrived for the first period class presentations, having served as a consultant for a team that studied gerrymandering, and she praised the efforts of her interviewers’ results. Other visitors included parents, Superintendent Dr. Pam Baldwin, Director of Secondary Humanities, Dr. Christy Stanley, and others from the district and CMS.
Motta introduced the assignment for Problem Based Learning (PBL) during the week after Thanksgiving break, and students brainstormed and ranked a list of current local, state and national problems. The top-ranked topics were gerrymandering, the NFL protests, the achievement gap in education, prevention of school shootings, the electoral college and the impact of climate change. “This was my first actual ‘problem based learning project.’ I have done many projects before, but this one was the first where I explicitly talked with students about solving actual problems,” Motta said.
After the students divided into groups, they developed research questions and then identified credible and reliable sources, including experts to interview. The group that had interviewed Rep. Insko received further input from the legislator, after she heard their presentation and studied their display. Other groups interviewed NC Rep. Graig Meyer and Dr. Jennifer Richmond Bryant from the EPA by email. Johnny Randall of the NC Botanical Gardens came to Culbreth to speak to students who were researching climate change. Several achievement gap groups interviewed Granvel Johnson and Carla Smith from Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate and Parent University, and the school shooting groups discussed their research and ideas for solutions with CMS school resource officer, Stan Newsome. “So many people helped me with this project,” Motta said. “Principal Monica Bintz empowered me to use my skills to do a project that I thought would work best for my students.”
Johnson clearly stimulated new perspectives among the achievement gap groups who interviewed him. A couple of those students cited him as an inspirational part of the research process. Johnson observed several periods of the presentations, and said, “These types of projects demonstrate the capacity our students have for synthesizing multiple sources of data and arriving at practical solutions to real world problems. My heart was filled with hope as I witnessed Mrs. Motta's students bring their critical thinking skills to bear on some of our most pressing social challenges.”
The displays were both eye-catching and information-packed. During each presentation, students took turns conveying highlights from their research, and then in a second round of sharing, they summarized the solutions that they had arrived at individually. In that way, a true range of opinions and responses were represented in each display, at times divergent, but always supported by evidence and facts.
Seema Anand, CMS gifted education specialist, worked with Motta throughout the planning and instruction. “It was really impressive to see her students shine and rise to this opportunity that she made available to her students. Ms. Motta is always willing to try new things in her classroom - for example she had never tried PBL projects, but we worked on it together, and Ms. Motta was able to push her students to complete this project with enthusiasm. She is also the one who made sure her students were recognized, and that is why she reached out to members of the district and community to be there for the presentations.”
“It was wonderful to see students excited about content and engaged in the learning process,” said Dr. Stanley. “Hearing students speak so knowledgeably about their topics let me know they truly understood their research, which allowed them to formulate real solutions to real world problems. I am proud to have Mrs. Motta on the ELA Team!”