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Middle School Challenge Days- Success!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Middle School Challenge Days is a period of three consecutive days during our spring semester where all middle school students sign up for a "challenge"- a group project that incorporates collaboration and experiential learning. Challenge Days change every year and every year they are a wonderful way for students to learn something fresh and interesting with a group of their peers. These days are less structured and small groups of students from 6th, 7th, and 8th grades work together for all three days on a series of projects related to their Challenge Days group. Please see below for details of our groups' activities. 

The Building Group: Our group is all about using our hands and minds (and some power tools) to create furniture for the school. To start, all together we set a goal to build a bench and a picnic table from scratch. In preparation for the task we learned safety procedures for how to use hammer, drill, saw, and other important tools. Students both built a school table and bench and their own independent projects and finished them by sanding and painting the creations. The table and bench can now be seen in our outdoor spaces and are already being used by students and staff.

The Presidio and Beyond Group: Our challenge centered around deeper exploration of the Presidio than PHS students are privy to through their regular class visits. We spent time examining some of the works of artist Andy Goldsworthy, hiked to Marshall's Beach, ventured onto the Golden Gate Bridge, and spent time exploring the historic Fort Point. All of this exclusively by foot! We averaged about 5-7 miles of walking each day of the challenge. Throughout our adventure, we played games, solved riddles, created art, and got to know one another on a deeper level than traditional school interaction provides. 

Spray It to Say It! Group: In this Challenge Day group we looked at how street art has been used as a creative medium to express the voices of the public, particularly surrounded by current events and controversy. Students took a tour of the Mission murals in San Francisco, participated in a street art workshop with Fred Alvarado, a local street artist, and designed and painted their own activist murals to express their own voice. These murals are now on display in our lower yard! 

Biking Group: Our group had a tremendous three days! We spent time exploring the beautiful city we live in by biking several challenging routes. The students' strong biking spirit and positive energy took them to Baker Beach, Ocean Beach, the Presidio, the Bay Trail, and Golden Gate Park. In between the biking, the kids spent time playing beach volleyball, hiking, eating ice cream, playing frisbee and doing a beach clean up at Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Park Service. The group encouraged one another and gave the three days their personal best. We are ready for next year already!

Take a Seat Group: Our group "challenge" was to learn about art and use our own creativity to design a seat for PHS- to incorporate art into the everyday experience at PHS. Our group traveled to the SF MOMA and sketched ideas, learning and drawing inspiration from famous artists. We had a woodworking artist come in to show us her craft and to explain the artistry of creating her furniture. We then chose a seat- benches, stools, chairs, etc- from all over the school and gave the chairs a makeover. Students were inspired by impressionism, pop art, and more! The seats are now on display and they will soon be distributed throughout the school. 

Cooking Group: In the cooking group we started our challenge days with simple items: pancakes and biscuits. The biscuit group learned how to make flaky, layered biscuits and the pancake group learned how to tell when a pancake should be flipped. The pancake group also, somehow, set a small pancake on fire. We still aren't sure how they did that. In groups of three or four, the students had to plan a meal that had a starch, protein, and vegetable. We had kids making chicken and waffles, steak, and tofu burgers. Two groups also made french fries from scratch. We made galettes, angel food cake (this came out terrible, according to the kids that made it), ice cream, and cookie-cake. On Friday we planned a feast for all to share and we made fried chicken, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, cast-iron skillet cornbread, cheddar cornbread, and salad. One group even experimented and made dressing from scratch. Oh, and someone melted a plastic plate. Again, we're not sure how this happened. 

Maker Group: Twelve amazing PHS students signed up for three days of technological discovery.  First, students designed images on their iPad and then printed their images using our 3-D printer.Next, we explored the world of soldering. We created a range of projects, from simple wire connections making light pendants to a complete am/fm radio. Some students took these newly learned skills and designed and built a functioning robot car. Lastly, we fused the art of technology and music, using a Makey-Makey kit. This kit allows students to take any object that can transmit electricity and make it into an instrument. One student used marshmallows and created a piano keyboard and another student used copper wire to build an electric guitar.
At the end of Challenge Day, all the students had the opportunity to share what they did with the entire middle school. We feel the class was a wonderful success and hope to do it again next year!