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Curious Minds - Student Work

Student Work


Congratulations to WCATY student Katie Eder, who has been named winner of AFS’ Project Change Vision in Action award! The award recognizes “an outstanding commitment to turning ideas for change into real action.”

According to AFS, “Katie Eder was chosen based on her clear determination to bring her idea to life, as well as her project’s extraordinary alignment with the AFS mission: to work toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences.”

Katie won the award as a result of her creation of Kids Tales writing workshops, designed to improve student literacy by helping children write and publish short stories. Katie ran the workshops last summer at Milwaukee’s Highland Community School and COA’s Riverwest Center. AFS is giving her a full scholarship to present a Kids Tales workshop next summer in Colombia.

“I’m delighted the judges liked my project so much,” said Katie, a ninth grader at Shorewood High School, in Shorewood, Wisconsin. “And I can’t wait to take Kids Tales to Colombia next summer.” Katie has taken two WCATY online Academy classes and blogs regularly for Curious Minds. 


Priscilla Pardini is WCATY’s communications coordinator and editor of Curious Minds. 

WCATY student Katie Eder has been named one of twenty finalists across the US in the American Field Service’s (AFS’s) Project: Change competition. The program seeks out ideas from students in grades 8 through 12 for meaningful volunteer projects; the first-place winner will be given funding to put his or her idea into operation over two weeks next summer in one of fourteen countries. 

Katie’s project is designed to improve student literacy by helping children write and publish short stories. It would build on Kids Tales, the writing workshops she designed and presented last summer at Milwaukee’s Highland Community School and COA’s Riverwest Center. 

Kids Tales was born, Katie explains in the video she produced and submitted to AFS describing her idea, because “I love to write, and I have found writing stories in particular has brought me joy, improved my reading skills, and has made me a more confident and capable student. Publishing a piece of writing gives kids a sense of fulfillment that encourages them to do greater things. . . . I would love to see Kids Tales become an international program.”

A ninth grader at Shorewood High School, in Shorewood, Wisconsin, Katie has taken two of WCATY’s online Academy courses. She also blogs regularly for Curious Minds.

Read more: WCATY Student Finalist in AFS National Competition

Imagine hearing the distinct sounds of children screaming in glee, enjoying their recess while you're sitting inside working on a worksheet that your dog ate last night. How would you feel? Probably not that great.


But that’s what’s happening at many schools that are using Zeros Aren't Permitted (ZAP), a program to help students who have incomplete, missing, or failing assignments. The program aims to make every student successful in school by giving them extra, time during lunch and recess to complete any required work. It also tries to eliminate zeros on their report cards.


ZAP has many proven benefits, but also some flaws. The main problem is that students miss their social time during lunch and recess, which experts say is important to students’ attitudes and grades in school.


Emma's research shows that students who had been in ZAP during lunch and recess were often students were often tired, bored, and unwilling to work in their afternoon classes. Twenty-nine students Cambridge Nikolay Middle School, in Cambridge, Wisconsin, surveyed about the ZAP Program suggested ways to make it better. The most popular recommendation was to schedule ZAP after school; however, the school's principal said that kids were too likely to skip ZAP if it was held after school. The solution that was put in place was to schedule ZAP only one or two times a week. This gives students the opportunity to have certain days to eat lunch with their friends.

Read more: Zeroes Aren't Permitted

Schools today are filled with troubled students disrupting others’ education with physical violence. There is a solution to end these damaging events: social emotional learning (SEL), a process that teaches students how to positively interact with people. Lessons cover bullying, leadership, empathy, communication, coping skills, and emotion management—skills generally not taught to children in traditional schooling. Group decision making and journaling are both activities used in SEL to decrease emotional tension that might otherwise come out as physical violence.


SEL has been applied, and worked effectively, in many cases. For example, In the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the amount of physical violence was reduced from 55 to 36 occurrences in a year after using SEL. The district implemented SEL with the help of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an organization dedicated to improving and bringing SEL programs to schools.


Our research, however, drew a different conclusion from what was seen in Cleveland. According to research based on interviews with staff members at one Madison middle school, SEL did not impact their school’s violence as much as it had in Cleveland. Nonetheless, we believe the program used in Madison, Crew, has potential. We’d recommend improving the curriculum a bit by including more fun team-building activities, and input from teachers, CREW leaders, and students. We’d also reduce the number of projects and schoolwide requirements, such as following the Madison Metropolitan School District SEL standards, and collect more feedback from students and teachers. 

Read more: Social Emotional Learning Promotes Success in Schools and Life


One of the creative writing topics I offered the students in my Wild Minds: Exploring the Intellectual and Emotional Lives of Animals online WCATY class (See Curious Minds, April 18, 2013) was to imagine oneself as a lab animal, and to write about a typical day in the lab from the animal’s point of view. I particularly loved the piece below, about a mouse in a maze, because its author, Isaac Bock (See Curious Minds, April 28, 2014), was very effective in making me feel and see things from the mouse’s perspective. Clearly, Isaac had thoughtfully considered this mouse’s predicament, having taken part in an online debate about the ethics of animal research. Isaac is also a fine wordsmith, choosing words that paint vivid pictures for the reader.

Just Another Day in the Lab 

by Isaac Bock 

Grade 8, Webster Stanley Middle School, Oshkosh 

I scampered along frantically, desperate to get towards the cheese I knew was hidden somewhere in the endless corridors. I could smell its enticing scent somewhere in the distance, but it was too far away for me to tell where it was coming from. While I wasn’t very hungry, the cheese was what I needed. I knew that when I found it, I could have a little snack, but along with it, I would be taken out of the cramped conditions of the maze around me. The walls were barely wider than my body, and the clear layer of glass across the top was almost touching the top of my fur. Thinking of the glass, I looked up towards it, and saw the blurry figure of the beast that put me into the maze every day. The monster was just plain weird. Sometimes, it acted all nice, giving me plenty of food and water, and only an hour or so later, it changed completely. At those times, it would take me, and push me into the confines of the maze, covering the entrance with a small piece of wood. 

Read more: Student's Imagination, Use of Imagery Infuses His Writing