In sixth grade, most students are just beginning to understand their social identities. With the support of a $10,000 AEF grant made in June 2019 to a multi-disciplinary team of teachers at Gibbs School, a new project-based learning (PBL) course will help students develop both their social and self-awareness. 

During the 2019-20 school year, teachers at Gibbs School will pilot a unique, new course called “Identity and Activism: A Social Justice Project Block” with one cohort of Gibbs students. The long-term plan is for all sixth graders to participate in a social justice project block.

Project block learning (PBL) is designed to be dynamic and student-centered and to help students achieve a deep understanding of a subject through active, inquiry-based learning. There are a variety of PBL classes at Gibbs. A primary goal of this new social justice-oriented project block is to have students explore their own identities, observe the Arlington community, and complete a project to make our community more equitable. Students will engage in Youth Participatory Action Research, an innovative approach to teaching youth about community activism grounded in principles of equity.

This exciting pilot will be rolled out as follows:

  • During summer 2019, the team of teachers spent time planning their curriculum, preparing lessons, gathering materials and creating a communication plan with families.
  • In July, three of the teachers attended the Free Minds, Free People Conference in Minneapolis
  • In August, three teachers and the Gibbs principal attended two Teaching Tolerance workshops: Social Justice 101 and Facilitating Critical Conversations. The team also researched children’s books that address different identities, diversity, adversity and students as change-makers.

As the school year gets underway, “Identity and Activism: A Social Justice Project Block” will begin in earnest. 

  • In the fall, teachers will work on building community among the students as well as introducing new vocabulary and core concepts. 
  • Over the winter, students will research student activism and explore local issues. 
  • During spring 2020, students will choose an issue for their social justice work and complete an original project. 

AEF eagerly anticipates sharing more about this innovative teaching and learning experience, the choices the students make, and their impact on our community.