Students spread kindness through project-based learning
On the second-floor landing at Link Elementary School is a Kindness Tree. Link students and staff are filling the tree this February with paper hearts expressing thanks for acts of kindness they saw or experienced.
"We thought it would be good for people to see kind things other people did, and if they see their own names they will feel proud," said Ashmita, one of the fifth-grade students who came up with the idea.
"They can also get ideas for how to show kindness to others," Jaidyn added.
The Kindness Tree is just one of many projects created and carried out by Link fifth-grade students over the past few weeks as part of a districtwide, student-driven, Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit on kindness.
District 54 students are participating in project-based learning to foster the skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. The kindness PBL supports the district's social-emotional learning curriculum, which stems from District 54's belief that each child deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.
Depending on their grade level, students were asked to focus their kindness work on their classroom, their school or their community. Fifth-grade students collaborated to spread kindness around their school.
"It's a really great way to get people to be kind to others," said Emma, a Link fifth-grade student.
The Link fifth-grade rooms and hallways bustled with activity as groups of students collaborated on their kindness projects.
One group hung posters inviting students to sign up for a pen pal in a different class. "Gain a new friend by this fun activity," one poster read. Another group wrote examples of acts of kindness on a game board they created for a schoolwide competition. A third group of students wrote encouraging messages on index cards such as "Be a rainbow in someone else's cloud" and "Make your life a masterpiece - imagine no limitations on what you can do!" They put the cards in kindness boxes so that someone could take a kind message and then leave one for someone else.
"I think it's great to put the students in the driver's seat," said Link fifth-grade teacher Danielle Gallo. "It becomes more meaningful for them and they were all very creative."
Blackwell fifth-grade students kicked off the unit in January by researching ways to show and sustain kindness throughout the school.
Students wrote thank-you notes to the lunch supervisors, created goodie bags for the crossing guards, put together snack boxes for substitutes, wrote a poem thanking the school custodians for their work, and more.
"They've come up with so many ideas, and it's fun to see them just run with it," said Blackwell fifth-grade teacher Annie Beucher.
"Our focus is kindness and making Blackwell a better place," Sophia said as she and her partner Andrea created paper chains on which they would write kind messages to the school nurse, Monika Concialdi. "We want to show her how we care about her."
Sophia said she liked working on the kindness project with other classes.
"Before I didn't really know Andrea, and now I talk to her a lot," she said.
"We get to spread kindness by making things with each other," Andrea added.
The focus for third-grade students was to increase kindness within their classroom, and Ashley Hennessy's third-grade class at Hoover Math and Science Academy embraced the opportunity. In January they conceived of a Kindness Board where students could leave kind notes for one another, and discussed how they could make sure everyone received a note.
"We got to encourage people in kind ways and show kindness to the whole class, so everyone can spread kindness," said third-grade student Amadeusz.
"It's so nice to see people writing notes to others - not just their best friend," added his classmate Alexa. "I think that it's really, really heartwarming."
Students thanked their classmates for always being a great friend, always including them in activities and being helpful.
After the first round of notes students reflected on how the activity made them feel.
"I am happy that I got a kind note!" one third-grade student wrote.
The class also started a Smile Captains rotation. Students take turns choosing a photo or video to share that would make their classmates smile. These are saved in Google Slides so students can find them when they need encouragement.
"We've got a great start, and it's been really cool to see the students taking ownership of this project," Hennessy said.