Bringing the World Online

Bringing the World Online

How do you flip a totally hands-on project in virtual learning times? Kevin Canney and his social studies classes got creative, innovating new ways to study one of humanity’s most basic needs: shelter. 

Typically, Kevin Canney’s 6th grade social studies classes spend time each year on what is affectionately known as the “shelter project.” As part of a unit on geography and climate, his students investigate the effects of where you live on how you live. Over the last few years, this work has been intensively hands-on, with his students spending weeks creating models of shelters in the Innovation Lab. During this COVID year and in light of our cohort mingling restrictions, that space was inaccessible. So, Kevin decided to flip the entire project to a virtual model. 

In previous years, students would work in teams, researching climate zones and the types of human habitations in those areas. After selecting a climate zone to focus on, students would draft a poster that would include their proposed shelter blueprint, a list of their intended building materials, and a clear plan for their project. Then they’d set to work, putting their plan into action in the Innovation Lab, making use of our supplies and specialized tools. Kevin says, “This year, we couldn’t do that same work. I like to incorporate sustainability, and I wanted us to continue this project in a ‘virtually hands-on’ kind of way.” 

Kevin decided to employ Adobe Spark, a program that allows users to make graphic web pages easily. Kevin devised fun assignments to help students learn and get comfortable with the platform, and then they were ready to apply their new skills to the updated plan for shelter and climate research. This year, rather than focusing on a single climate zone, each student explored polar, temperate, and tropical regions, studying the biodiversity and physical and human geography of those regions. 

By moving this project online, Kevin discovered that this method lent itself readily to both synchronous and asynchronous work, and that many students enjoyed it so much that they begged to work on their projects for homework.

Take a look at their completed projects.

Kevin says, “We were frustrated at first, not being able to be in the innovation space, but this version of the project was just as beneficial for the students.” 

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About Benchmark School

Benchmark School, located at 2107 N. Providence Road, Media, Pa., is an independent, not-for-profit day school serving students in grades 1-8. Founded in 1970, the school is committed to helping bright students who have yet to reach their academic potential become confident and strategic thinkers, learners, and problem solvers who meet with success in school and life. For more information about Benchmark School, please call 610-565-3741 or visit