Student’s cancer battle inspires project-based learning

Student’s cancer battle inspires project-based learning

Fifth grader Cici Collins and her classmates researched the disease, held fundraiser
Fifth-grader Cici Collins’ (second from the right) cancer survival story inspired a Common Core-aligned curriculum for her entire class last fall.

Upon entering middle school last fall, cancer survivor Cici Collins had no idea her story would inspire a new curriculum for her entire grade.

After her fifth grade teachers at Dupont Hadley Middle School in Nashville found out that Cici would be attending, they used her illness as the basis for developing their first project-based learning program, called “Cell-a-Brate,” which also was aligned to the Common Core, Principal Kevin Armstrong says.

Cici, 11, has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy to treat a brain tumor that first appeared in 2006 and returned in 2012. As of January 2014, she is cancer free. Cici’s family was excited about the project and saw it as a chance to teach kids about the disease while making Cici more comfortable at school, Armstrong says.

In science class, Cici and 180 classmates researched what cancer is and how it grows. They also learned about chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. The local Volunteer Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership Program, a STEM organization through Vanderbilt University, provided microscopes so students could view real cancer cells. Students then wrote about their findings.

The project’s final assignment was to plan a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Students found recipes online and used math concepts—such as fractions and multiplication—to calculate the amount of ingredients needed for a meal for hundreds of attendees.

“The project presented to me by the teachers focused on cancer while incorporating math, science and literacy skills,” Armstrong says. “It really blew me away that the entire grade was planning to implement this project.”

At the fundraiser, held in December, the students rotated from serving food to collecting donations to manning a booth where they told attendees about the project. CiCi had her own booth where she shared her story. About $1,300 was raised for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Nashville.

“This project opened my eyes to how educators can can stick to Common Core while teaching about a relevant topic—and even include a community service element,” Armstrong says.