Masks Of Identity: An Exploration of Character

2022 marks PAFE’s 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, we will share a story each month to honor the teachers and students who, thanks to your generosity, can extend their capabilities in the classroom and experiment with projects that have a lasting impact. We think you’ll enjoy Danielle Packard’s story, and we are excited to see how this unfolds in the future.

Most eighth-graders feel like they don’t have a lot of say in how their life goes, which can feel frustrating. Masks of Identity is a year-end project that gives them the time to explore who they are and what they want to accomplish before they head off to high school, where they are expected to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives.

Sandpoint Middle School ELA teacher Danielle Packard wants to help students celebrate this milestone – the end of middle school  – with reflective work that gives them space while challenging them to be both intellectual and creative.

Throughout the year, the 8th grade English department teaches an overarching theme called Character Strong, where all the units relate to how character is formed and what kind of decisions one can make to improve or strengthen personal character.

Masks of Identity is the year-end unit, a three-year collaborative project between Sandpoint Middle School 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) teachers that integrates Science with ELA through reading and writing about periodic table elements. PAFE supplied funds to purchase mask forms, paper mache glue, paint, paint brushes, and books required for the research.

Here’s how the project works: 

Students investigate and reflect upon their identity in both narrative and nonfiction formats by reading various fiction and non-fiction articles and books on identity and character. 

Through tests and research, they identify with an element from the Periodic Table of Elements. Using the scientific elements gives them a safe way to talk about themselves and start to understand things they didn’t realize before.

“At first I didn’t know how this part of the project would go over with the students,” said Danielle, {side note, we love giving teachers the ability to experiment in the classroom} “but it ended up actually making them more open and more reflective about their personality and character because they had this element, and they could look at it and think, ‘oh, yeah, that’s the way I react to things,’ and I was pleased to see this level of reflection and personal work, especially at the end of eighth grade when many students are typically checked out.”

After researching and reflecting on the meaning of identity, students create a multimedia presentation including two essays, a Haiku poem, and a papier-mache mask.

Logan McGrann’s mask, pictured here, is green and silver; his element was lithium, and his color green. The combination means he is trustworthy, reliable, and kind. 

Danielle told us this is a significant moment for students to think about their time in middle school and reflect on what they want to accomplish in high school. 

“We’re doing this again next year and using all those great supplies we still have. But ultimately, I would love for it to get taken on by our school. It’s terrific that PAFE made this happen so we can use it as a test, but I hope our administration and other teachers will see how valuable this is as a culminating project and put in the funds to have additional classes get involved. 

I see this as a more significant cross-curricular graduation project, something students can really be proud of, and a way that we, as a school, can honor their growth.