Readers of all ages know that a good book can take you places. Steward seventh graders recently experienced this when they read “The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise,” a road-trip tale written in the voice of a 12-year-old girl who crisscrosses the country with her father in a converted school bus. Middle School English Teacher Mary Hopkins, who assigned the book, collaborated with Middle School Teachers Christen Fratter (PE), Wallace Inge (social studies), Betsy Orgain (science), and Jacqueline Tuck (mathematics), and Anne Maury Haapala (director of dining services) to create a cross-disciplinary project around the engaging story.
Travel Time + Road Trip
Students were tasked with researching a state, designing a vehicle for a “trip” that they would take there, and creating a detailed travel plan. After they were each randomly assigned a state, the students mapped out all the trip details, which they ultimately illustrated and attached to tri-fold cardboard displays. The vehicles that students designed ran the gamut, from RVs and campers to a Harry Potter-themed bus. One student even designed a Barbie van (complete with all-pink accessories)!
“The purpose of the project was to enhance the unit on United States geography taught during history class, as well as give students an experience of planning a trip like the one in the novel,” said Ms. Hopkins. She explained the specifics of the assignment: “Students could bring four items from home, plus three of their favorite books, on their trip. Starting in their state capital, they had seven days to complete the journey.” Travelers were required to reach four destinations, one of which had to be a national park; in addition, they had to stay in the United States and could not drive more than 500 miles a day. Students also had to create a map, images of the places they visited, a bumper sticker to convey how they felt about their journey, and a scale drawing of something they saw during their travels.
To cap off the assignment, the seventh graders participated in a State Fair. In the Bryan Innovation Lab, they proudly displayed their colorful projects and walked through the exhibit, “visiting” each state. In the Bryan Lab kitchen, under the guidance of Ms. Haapala, our travelers cut out and baked cookies in the shape of their state; in an adjacent classroom, they eagerly lined up to sample slushie drinks made by Ms.Orgain. “The lead character in the book is crazy about slushies,” explained Ms. Hopkins, “so this was a fun addition to our State Fair … and one that the students really enjoyed!” Outside the Bryan Lab, Ms. Fratter supervised lawn games, adding a special touch to the event.
Juliet Forlano ’28 researched Washington State — a place she previously knew little about.
“I learned so many things!” said Juliet, who brought three of her favorite books on the trip: “Where the Crawdads Sing,” “The Atlas Six,” and “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.” She also packed her two-year-old plant, a journal to document her adventures, her water bottle to decorate with stickers from the places she visited, “and my childhood stuffed animal, to have something sentimental from home.” Reflecting on the cross-disciplinary nature of the State Fair project, she said, “I like the feeling of my classes being linked through one project because it gives me time to really think out and connect all of my work.”
Andrew Ganache '28, who researched California, was surprised by how long it can take to travel from one part of the state to another. His vehicle, an RV, included a built-in kitchen, and he took three books on his trip, all of which were written by Alan Gratz, his favorite author.
Like all Spartans, these adventurous readers were inspired by topics that encourage critical thought and meaningful connections.
Ms. Hopkins said, "Projects like this help students understand the practical implications of what they are learning in their classes. Math, geography, writing, and art make more sense when students use them to solve highly engaging problems … and slushies and cookies don't hurt!"