Upper School Science and Human Biology teachers Hilary Staples and Mary Churchill devised a unique way to keep engagement high with graduating seniors in the last days of this school year: create a competition and invite the Fourth Grade to be the judges. What better way to up the ante on an end-of-term project?
Students in the 11th/12th grade Human Biology class were given the following prompt for their final assessment: “You have been asked by a very wealthy investment firm to design a new theme park for your town. The company is awarding a $150 million dollar contract for the successful engineering firm whose design will eventually become THE amusement destination in the country. In order to win the contract, you must construct a 3D model of your body-themed amusement park, including a description of why your park should get the contract.”
Students were randomly assigned a human biology system to use for the theme of their amusement park, including the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, nervous, and skeletal systems. Students spent a week designing, engineering, and building miniature models of their theme parks that included references to the organs of the body system they were assigned, moveable or interactive elements of their parks, and rides and attractions that addressed the theme of their park. The seniors worked in small groups and had a list of criteria, plus a special twist: each theme park would be judged by a fourth-grade audience! The judging rubric included how well the seniors explained their concepts and “sold” their park idea to the fourth-grade judges, who were also serving as potential financial investors.
“The fourth graders took their role seriously, coming into our classroom ready to review each 3D model with a fine eye,” shares Ms. Staples. “The seniors knew they would be judged, and the friendly competition really upped their commitment.” The fourth grade came into the Human Biology lab, judging clipboards in hand. They worked in groups of three to judge each park before presenting their final decisions and explaining their reasoning.
In the first of two classes, the fourth graders agreed to crown “Take Your Breath Away”—by Alejandra S. L. ’23, Skyler A. ’23, Seiki R. ’23, David M. ’23, and Mina S. ’24—as the winning project. “This was their favorite amusement park,” explains Ms. Churchill, “because it was a very long ride with many different components to the rollercoaster, and each organ of the respiratory system was part of the ride.” In the second class, “Pulse Park”—by Jonas A. ’23, Braeden C. ’23, Ozzie S. ’23, Aiden C. ’23, Zuzu B. ’23, and Stanley M. ’23—took first place. As Ms. Churchill explains, “the designers were able to persuade the fourth graders that their rides were the most fun.”
“We are so grateful to the fourth grade for coming to judge our human biology projects,” says Ms. Staples. “As a result, the seniors worked harder on their project and presented more engaging explanations to try and impress the judges.”