Building Community and Ownership: 5 Mini-Projects to make Socially Distanced Classrooms More Social



As several of us return to our school sites this week, they hardly look like the places we left last year.

Temperature sensors greet us at the gates, while hand sanitizing stations dot every corner. Drinking fountains, once offering an oasis of relief are now taped off like a crime scene.

Our classrooms look even more unfamiliar. Desks, once organized in unique, thoughtful shapes are now positioned in unimaginative rows, with barriers between each seat. Our walls have been stripped bare, robbed of their color in exchange for a clear protective agent to protect against germs.

In this CoVid 19 socially distanced environment, it’s easy to revert back to how we delivered schooling in the 50’s. The teacher at the front of the classroom delivering content, while students take copious notes from their seats.

But as consummate innovators, with a little imagination and creativity, we can still offer the kind of experiences we know build the community and student ownership so vital to success throughout the year. Here are five ideas:

MAIN Driving Question: How do we build community and ownership in our socially distanced classroom? Mini-Project #1: Learning Style Exhibition

How do we best learn and how can we create an environment that enhances it? 

Each of our students have a preferred way to learn. Some are visual, some kinesthetic, some musical, others verbose and extroverted, and some naturalistic. Knowing how we learn helps us access new content and materials. Start by having your students take a simple audit of their preferred learning style here. Next, group students (virtually) according to their most preferred learning style. Give students some flip chart paper, a set of markers, legos, a shared padlet for brainstorming, and 90 minutes to create a presentation for other groups on how they like to learn. I’ve seen students create simple posters, to complex raps and 3-d models.

Mini-Project #2: Class Bulletin Boards How can we decorate our classroom to create the context for learning, while also showcasing our work? 

This is a fun design competition. To run it, you will need 2-3 bulletin boards and 2-3 student groups. Place artistic materials, rulers, scissors, tape and other accessories next to each bulletin board spread throughout the classroom. Assign each student a number 1-3. The number they receive corresponds to the board they will design. As a group, they have decide on the theme for the board, how to fill it, and who will complete each task. Use a simple google spreadsheet divided by name, task, due date, and description to keep track of each group’s progress.

Mini-Project #3: Virtual Community Field Trip Planners How can we extend our learning into our community this year? 

This is a great project if your school has strict rules around seat confinement. To start, you will need to create a shared google map here. Next, give students a short questionnaire to discover their interests (hobbies, subjects, periods of history, favorite books or movies, etc.) Group students in teams of 4 based on similar interests from the questionnaire. Next, in their small groups have students look for possible field trips within a 10 mile radius that relates to both their interests AND your subject content. Have them plot the field trip on the shared map, including how they would get there, what students would do, what they would learn, why it would be valuable, and the potential risks involved. Once the map is complete, have each group share! Here is one teachers came up with for ideas around Park Maitland, Florida.

Mini-Project #4: School Wide NewsCast or Newspaper How can we keep our community informed of key local and global events during social distancing? 

In this project, students collaborate school wide to produce a weekly news broadcast for parents and the community. To implement it, divide students across classrooms according to newscast themes (Mental Health During CoVid, Sports, Culture, Music, etc.). Have each news team decide on writers, editors, producers, and actors. Set up a small, soundproof film area in the corner of your classroom to record. Students can collaborate, share notes and clips across classrooms on a shared padlet according to each theme. Every other Friday, stream the newscast live at the same time. Here is a sample newscast created by incredible students from a school in Beijing during social distancing.

Mini-Project #5: Class StoryTelling How can storytelling help us communicate who we are? 

Students love this project! To start, provide each student a lined piece of paper. Draw the narrative story arc on the board (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). Have each students begin their story with one line. After 5 minutes, students rotate to a new desk. Their task is now to add the next line to that story. After 5 minutes, repeat the same process. After 10 rotations, have students return to their stories. Share them with the class. Use this activity to introduce the shared class story project! In a digital document, they will use the same process to create a story that teaches others about the class. Each student contributes a line or two. 🙂

Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” 

CoVid 19 has certainly created limitations. It’s up to us how we use them. I hope these project ideas unleash your creative potential during social distancing!

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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