The Most Magnificent School Project! Using picture books to promote school-wide critical thinking project.

Sexsmith’s Most Magnificent School Project

If you tell me, I will forget.  If you teach me, I will remember.  If you involve me, I will learn.                                                                                                                                          –  Ben Franklin

As you may be aware, the curriculum in British Columbia has been redesigned to reflect a more inquiry based approach to learning and teachers are beginning to implement many of the new ideas into their units of study.  This year, my school (J. W. Sexsmith in Vancouver) is specifically focusing on one of the three core competencies of the new curriculum – critical thinking.  Critical thinking is an approach to learning that involves analyzing, questioning and developing a plan, idea, product or thought.  Rather than just memorizing new information, we are asking students to think, question and form their own ideas and opinions about what they are learning.

To launch this school-wide focus, we embarked on a school-wide project called Sexsmith’s Most Magnificent Thing.  Students learned about the project at our first school-wide assembly (Monday).  My staff had discussed the importance of developing a common language for critical thinking, so I came up with a visual and key words to use to explain the three phases of critical thinking – ANALYZE-QUESTION-DEVELOP.  I introduced these three words, along with a prompt word for each:  when we analyze – our brain says “Hmmmm“; when we question, our brain says “Huuhhh?“; when we develop, our brain says “Ah-Ha!”  


I then shared the book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.  This book has many different themes, including perseverance and ways of dealing with frustration, but it was also a perfect fit for introducing critical thinking.  In the story, the girl does not practice critical thinking skills initially while trying to make her most magnificent thing, which results in a lot of frustration and an eventual melt-down.  It is only at the end of the story, she begins to analyze her attempts and re-designs her plan that the magnificent thing is finally complete.  For the school assembly, I projected the YouTube read aloud. of this book on a large screen.

In thinking about this as a school project, I had nightmares of the entire school bringing in metal pieces, wheels, batteries, and wires, creating electronic chaos like the girl in this book does!   Inspired by the book What To Do With a Box by Jane Yolen, I simplified the project by having students use empty boxes to build their MMTs – Most Magnificent Things.

Students were asked to bring an empty box from home.  It was amazing to see the variety – from gigantic empty refrigerator boxes to tiny match boxes! img_1274


The next day, I met with grade groups to share Jane Yolen’s book and explain the project in more detail.  I reminded the students that this project was an opportunity for them to practice critical thinking and that the product at the end was not as important as the process.  They were also told that their teachers would be supplying the basic supplies of scissors, glue, paint and paper, but that if they needed any other materials that they would need to bring them from home.

Back in their classes, students began the project by analyzing their own empty box – carefully looking at size, shape and special features.

They drew, labelled and colored a careful diagram of their box.

The next day, the students questioned what they were going to make, what materials they might need and what potential problems they may run into. They developed a plan for their project and then they were ready to set to work!


For those who were still trying to decide what to turn their box into, there were more books to read for inspiration:

       Not a Box – Antoinette Portis

                                                                         Box – Min Flyte

The Nowhere Box – Sam Zuppardi

During the week, students spent many hours transforming their box into something magnificent!  They were encouraged to practice their critical thinking skills during the process.  If something wasn’t working they tried to analyze, question and develop a new plan.  The school was buzzing with excitement and thinking!

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During the project, we circulated several other books that teachers could share which focused on characters who demonstrated critical thinking:

Anything is Possible – Giulia Belloni

Learning to Fly – Sebastian Meschenmoser

 Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House – Libby Gleeson

Spare Dog Parts – Alison Hughes

Stuck – Oliver Jeffers

More-igami – Dori Kleber

After four days of cutting, gluing, painting, bending, folding, attaching, taping, taping and more taping, along with a whole lot of analyzing, questioning and developing new plans – the MMT projects were FINISHED!   The students completed a self-reflection page and did a final drawing of their MMT.  To celebrate this MAGNIFICENT project, we had an afternoon ‘walk about’ where students and teachers were given an opportunity to walk through other classes to view all of the ‘Magnificent Things’!   WOW!  It was incredible to see how many different creations the students came up with – jet packs, miniature rooms, soccer games, castles, maps, musical instruments, telephones, puppet shows, and even a vending machine that actually worked!   And while we all agreed there were some moments in the classrooms when creativity looked like more like chaos and a few teachers experienced most magnificent headaches, the students loved every minute of it and were thoroughly engaged.   Throughout the week, they really demonstrated all the aspects of independent, project-based learning and critical thinking skills, while having a most magnificent time!   Here are just a few examples of the creative ways students turned their boxes into something magnificent!














 It truly was a most magnificent project!  I highly recommend you try it with your class or your school!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Carmela

    Is there a lesson plan out there that’s available?

  2. Lorraine Brookes

    Thanks for the inspiring ideas, Adrienne! I typically share several of these books with classes; love the whole-school approach!

    1. Adrienne Gear

      They are very inspiring books! This could be either a whole school or modify it for just a class project. The students LOVED it!

  3. Gail

    Is there a link to the worksheets used Above?

  4. Annette

    I am excited to try this project. I ordered the bundle from your site. It did not include the slide for ANALYZE-QUESTION-DEVELOP though. Can I access that somewhere? Thanks!

  5. raftriverlearningcommons

    Hi, Our school is starting this project next week! Thank you for the great package! A couple of questions that have come up with staff… are there any suggestions for “early finishers?” Also, do you have any recommendations for read-alouds for intermediates to inspire them? We have quite a few of the “box” books but they are more aimed at primary. We are also going to hold a parent open house night to share the students’ projects 🙂

  6. Robyn Anderson

    Just to add to the box book resources – a book for the holidays that I stumbled upon in our school library is Crispin, The Pig Who Had it All. A funny book about a pig that receives an empty box for Christmas and discovers that imagination and friends are the best present of all! (author Ted Dewan)

    1. Adrienne Gear

      Thank you so much for this book recommendation! I will certainly include it in my MMT book list and also post it on FB for anyone who is doing the project before Christmas. Thanks, again!

  7. Kathy whitehead

    I was at your workshop this year in Toronto. 8 could have listened and learned from you all day. Now that we are summoned to stay home with the Covid-19 in the air, I purchased your Powerful Understanding book. I love the Most Magnificent Thing project. I am going to purchase the bundle pack you suggested in a request. Could you also send me the ANALYZE-QUESTION-DEVELOP resource?

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