North Marshall math, social studies students partner to build cave

North Marshall Middle School students (from left) Jackson Boone, Riley Smith and Savannah Howell made up the final design team on an interdisciplinary project at the school on which students constructed a cave.

North Marshall Middle School students traveled back in time last Friday by designing and constructing their very own cave, complete with 21st-century cave drawings.

The project was a collaborative effort between Kayla Staley’s eighth-grade geometry students, which designed and constructed the cave, and Daniel Whitesides’ seventh-grade social studies classes, which developed emoji-based pieces of cave art to hang on the walls.

The project served as a way to connect classroom lessons to life outside of the classroom.

“These were concepts (in math) that students were already familiar with,” Staley said. “This project just enabled them to use and apply that.”

Meanwhile, Whitesides’ classes are studying early civilizations and how anthropologists interpret what their lives were like through artifacts such as cave art. With this project, his students were able to step into the role of anthropologist by creating culturally relevant art pieces using emojis — social artifacts that are unique to our time.

To construct the cave, Staley gave her students specific size parameters and a limited amount of materials and told them to design a cave using the materials as efficiently as possible. The students broke into teams and drafted designs for the cave using these guidelines. Once a winning design was selected, the class began construction.

Riley Smith, a geometry student and member of the final design team, was happy to start the school year with a project.

“It was a really good introduction to geometry,” Smith said.

Building the cave wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. When the original design didn’t go according to plan, students went back to the drawing board and another design was selected.

“Communication was a really big part of building the cave,” said Jackson Boone, another student responsible for the cave’s final design.

Savannah Howell, the final member of the design team, agreed.

“It taught us to be really precise,” Howell added.

When the geometry students finished construction, the social studies classes stepped in. Using highlighters and a black light, Whitesides’ students covered the pitch-black cave in glowing murals, each conveying a specific message of the students’ own design.

The result? An interdisciplinary structure that reveals just how much students are capable of when given the opportunity. The project allowed students to demonstrate both core content knowledge and 21st-century skills like innovation, critical thinking and creative expression.

NMMS’ cave project is a display of deeper learning — education that seeks to teach the whole child — and an example of the changes occurring across the Marshall County School District as it strives to equip our students with the skills they need to be successful beyond school.