Education: Sixth grade project taps creativity, but also goes deep into STEM, history and research

  • Weare Middle School sixth grade student Anna Chasse with her model of Journey through the Caribbean, left, and a sketch of Captain Leila, one of the characters for her theme park. Courtesy

  • Anna Chasse holds up a sketch of one of the characters for her theme park, Captain Leila. —Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 12/28/2020 5:46:55 PM

The Unified Arts Team at Weare Middle School got creative earlier this fall when attempts to fill a temporary art position for a teacher on leave were unsuccessful.

The solution? Enrichment Coordinator Wil Crabtree took over the section and taught a six-week Imagineering class to a group of sixth-graders. The class was designed to mirror the Imagineers who create the various Disney-theme parks. In the class, students had to design and plan a theme park.

“There was a direct hands-on art component to this multidisciplinary unit. Students created paper models and sketches of the various buildings and rides in their imagined land. They even developed details like the landscape and building materials they would use, the food that would be available, and the clothing their characters would wear in their land,” said Crabtree. “But in addition to the visual arts, there was a lot of STEM, history, and research involved in completing their theme parks. Each student created a slideshow of their imagined park that included photos of their buildings, scale models, sketches, and written descriptions. Projects also included identifying sound effects and main character descriptions and drawings.” Crabtree used several sources for his lessons that included Disney and Khan Academy.

Anna Chasse imagined Journey through the Caribbean for her project. In this adventure, visitors journey into a vast ocean world to discover islands, pirates, and traps. Her concept was to have visitors cross an ocean where pirates would find them, and players needed to figure out how to escape. Her concept was similar to how escape rooms work but on a theme park scale.

“Creating the slideshow, including all the elements of my theme park was my favorite part, and I liked that the learning was at my own pace and I used my ideas,” Anna said. “I learned a lot, including I never thought I’d experience Disneyland at school!”

“There were many excellent lands created by our students on a wide variety of topics from the American Civil War to ‘Pluto II.’ Anna chose a West Indian theme, and when looking at her portfolio, it was easy to see exactly her vision and how it could be built. It would be a fun place to visit,” said Crabtree.

The art teacher has now returned from leave, and the very successful Imagineering class has become part of the enrichment program offered at Weare Middle School.

“There are so many levels of learning in this class,” Crabtree said. “Students learn to tell stories through the theme park experience, but they also dig deeper into many other areas, even career exploration. Students learn about all the different professions in a theme park ranging from structural engineers to visual artists. A student’s imagination can take them down many different learning paths. It’s always exciting to see what students create.”

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