Gypsum Creek Middle School students take over with project-based learning during M-term
‘M’ in M-Term is for May, and Magic
GYPSUM — David Russell strides excitedly through Gypsum Creek Middle School’s halls smiling as he watched students build, create and learn.
It’s M-Term, short for May Term. Students and teachers decide what they want to learn for a two-week stretch near the end of the school year.
“It puts students in the driver’s seat of their own learning, with teachers acting as facilitative guides and coaches. Students helped identify the topics, then developed the driving questions that directs their project,” Russell said.
Among other things, students learn that improv comedy and book writing can be hard, that solar-powered model cars work better when the sun is shining, that digital photography is a minor miracle and if you make a ceramic mug that looks like a troll with gout your mom will still love it.
M-Term based loosely on the Buck Institute, which extols the advantages of project-based learning. In eduspeak it’s called kinesthetic learning. Basically, kids are out of their chairs, active and creating things.
“We tried it last year in a few classes. This year is our first to try it schoolwide,” Russell said.
The staff and faculty started with a list of what seemed like an endless number of subjects, finally winnowing down to 16. The students voiced their opinions by signing up for the classes they wanted. Soccer was popular; so was international cooking and fly-fishing.
They’re not just playing soccer or fishing. Classes start with problems and combine academics with real-world problem solving. The answers emphasize reading, writing and math. Students research, form opinions, build arguments, offer solutions and present their work.
Fly fishermen and mountain bikers study ecosystems and fitness. Soccer players study the history of the sport and its cultural implications. Of course no “Paint Like Bob Ross” would be complete without a Bob Ross wig. Like Bob, the class emphasizes painting positivity. Around the school you’ll see examples like the stylized: “Follow Your Heart, But Bring Your Brain With You.”
The solar model car class learned about solar power and why, on snowy days, it’s not dependable — and why asking Ra the Egyptian sun god won’t overcome physics.
Teachers also get to break out of the box. Math teacher Trevor Johnson taught the improv comedy class — yes, it was really funny.
Those barnyard animals were courtesy of local 4-H clubs and were a study in the environment, food supplies and how fragile both can be.
“We’re at the time of year when most people have already checked out, mentally and emotionally. This keeps everyone engaged,” Russell said.
Russell observed that kids who normally cause discipline issues … didn’t. The shy kids who are reluctant to engage … did.
And then there’s this: Amid last week’s spring storms the school’s wifi was spotty. Hardly anyone noticed. They were too busy learning good stuff.