The Why Behind the Work: Part 1

Amy Barnard

A crayon sketch of a cozy home in a polar environment? The partially blacked out page taken from your preteen's favorite novel? You might be surprised to find out that there was a lot more happening to bring about these projects than a simple one-step classroom assignment. In this two-part series we will look at a handful of student projects and discover that there is more than meets the eye.


Drawing of a triangular home by a kindergarten student

The Work: Created a cold weather shelter to keep humans warm (by Maddie)

The Why: To practice research, brainstorming, and communication

The Process: Students began by learning about polar animals and how they keep themselves warm. Then, they researched different shapes and materials for a human structure to keep guests at a cold weather hotel warm, sometimes taking inspiration from the animals they learned about. Students brainstormed four ideas and then chose one to fully plan out. Once completed, students had to pitch their cold weather structure to their classmates, focusing not only how the structure would look, but also why it would be able to keep the guests warm.

Second Grade

A robot made of boxes, tubes, tape, and markers.

The Work: Build mathematical models in the form of robots, animals, and buildings (by Camden)

The Why: To better understand and identify shapes, vertices, edges, angles, and faces of 2D and 3D objects 

The Process: First students drew blueprints and identified geometric shapes, then they collected 2D and 3D items, finally creating their model noting the total number of vertices, edges, angles, and faces of each shape included. Students presented models to classmates using silver dollar words like "quadrilateral," "sphere," and "rectangular pyramid."

Fourth Grade

a little tree made of a branch with ornaments made by students

The Work: Ornaments for a Jesse Tree (Ms. Magnuson's 4th Grade Class)

The Why: To process how all scripture points to the arrival of Jesus 

The Process: As part of the advent season students studied the verse Isaiah 1:11, the promise that a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse. Each student took one piece of Jesus’ family tree, read the connecting scripture, then designed an image symbolizing that passage. Students used Shrinky-Dink paper to create ornaments to put on a community tree. It turned out to be a beautiful way for cohorts to be represented together while they stayed apart.

Fifth Grade

The Work: Blackout Poetry (by Catherine)

The Why: To challenge students creatively while still providing a structure for them to follow

The Process: Students studied poetic devices and structure, analyzing works of modern and classic poets. They also studied blackout poetry, which is created with a random page of writing from a book, magazine, or newspaper, using words or phrases as inspiration to create a new work, a poem. For this project, they drew over, shaded or blackened out words completely, leaving only the “poem” to convey the their ideas. 


Seventh Grade

Two images showing an ancient Roman home laid out in a real-estate type brochure.
A real-estate type brochure listing the rooms included and type of environment for an ancient Roman home in Pompeii.

The Work: A brochure to sell a home from ancient Pompeii (by Maddie)

The Why: To learn about the differences and similarities of a (wealthy person's) home compared to our modern Minnesota homes

The Process: Students read about houses from the Bay of Naples, 79 A.D., participated in activities in which they identified the various rooms based on oral prompts, and read stories in Latin where the textbook characters performed different activities based on the purpose of the rooms. Then they created brochures for a sample Roman home, complete with rooms and their purposes and pricing.

Seventh Grade

Poem describing how one seventh grader feels when he runs.

The Work: Students wrote a "Portrait of a 7th Grader" poem about who they are as a 7th grader 

The Why: To reflect on and celebrate the various aspects of who they are while exploring various poetic devices  

The Process: Students followed the pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing stages of writing. Poems needed to be at least 15 lines long and include at least 5 different poetic devices. Ms. Johnson hung the poems on the wall for others to read, which allows students to get to know each other better.

Eighth Grade

Image using bright geometric shapes on black background that come together to make three homes.

The Work: Mola Inspired Artwork

The Why: Learn how to tell a story through a new art form 

The Process: Students explored examples of the textile Mola designs made by the Kuna people of Panama. Mr. Tamminga challenged students to be inspired by this beautifully intricate work with its rich conceptual meaning, and then to tell their own stories while representing this artistic style. They used colored pencils on black paper, making small shapes and marks, to represent the Mola technique and style.

Stay tuned for more examples of the "why" behind the work!

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