Teachers at a West Haven middle school recently won a second-place prize at an international contest sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Eighth grade teachers Sherry Mitchell and Matthew DiGioia were asked to show how they inspire their students.
How do they inspire their students? With the book and film, "The Martian", which is about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and uses science and engineering to survive.
Mitchell and DiGioia liked "The Martian" so much that they have built lessons around its themes -- not just for science, but also for English, history, and math.
"After I read the book, I just kept telling myself, wow, this would be a great resource to not only use in my classroom, but across the board. Because the book is really loaded with a lot of math, a lot of science," DiGioia said.
Using "The Martian" for inspiration, they created a Google doc with lesson plans that teachers of different subjects can access. They ask students to examine common misconceptions about space, such as the difference between weightlessness and zero gravity. They also explore aspects of Martian geography, and they ask students to write essays and produce podcasts -- all of this is tied to themes in the book and film.
Check out the video they submitted for the contest:
Interdisciplinary lessons like this one have been shrinking in middle school classrooms, even though research has pointed out that students learn much more effectively when themes cross classroom boundaries.
As a team leader at Bailey Middle School, science teacher Mitchell said she collaborates often with other teachers, but "We don't really get a chance to do the interdisciplinary end of it often, so we thought this would be perfect. Let's just do it. And the kids loved it," she said.
Mitchell said this project has inspired her team to develop similar lessons that can be woven into different classes to keep students engaged and excited about learning.