Social Studies: Much of what we choose for our main themes comes from the Sciences and Social Studies. These topics are often embedded in one another. In learning about the cultures and peoples of the world so much else comes into play. In studying about the salmon we raise yearly, we learn about the lives of the people who first populated this region. In this way, we touch on not only the biology of the life cycle but on the stories that were originally told to explain their return to their original spawning grounds. When learning about discovering the North and South Poles, we studied geography of the region and biological adaptation. We learned about basic aspects of astronomy while contrasting one century’s explorations to another. The ability to teach topics thematically across the disciplines preserves their integrity and supports the young child in making sense of a situation or construct.
Sources that Inform Our Curriculum
The Curriculum in Action:
A student holding a certificate of her ancestor’s official registration on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.
Beyond the Show 2012
The following post is taken from the Ampersand, Lake and Park’s school blog, as published on May 5th 2012.
We lately dedicated a full two week’s school time to presenting The Story of Jumping Mouse as a musical. Children from the nearby Central Branch Preschool attended our performance during the day of May 3rd; that evening, we played to a parent and friends audience. The tale is originally from the indigenous peoples of the American plains. Retold and illustrated by John Steptoe, it received a Caldecott Honor Award in 1972. We were fortunate to have Ellen Cooper and Joseph Seserko, the writer and composer, respectively, in our evening attendance. (They co-direct, Anything is Possible, a Seattle based theater school for children.)
The tale tells of a little mouse who hears of the “far off lands” and wishes to go there. Although she is a creature of the prairie, she ventures to other geographic regions and encounters animals of the forest, desert and mountain. The North Room, under Eileen’s guidance, learned the technical term for a region when living specimens are incorporated into the environment: a biome. The children were divided into research groups and presented their learnings about the areas first by painting a mural of each, and later creating a group diorama to showcase their knowledge in a three dimensional manner. The diorama included not only collage materials, but clay creatures, as well. Alongside of these, each child put his learning into writing and illustration as he created a book about the specific animal he researched.
I mention all of the above to give a context to what I am going to say next. After the success of the performance the night before–and it was a truly successful evening for all of us; we could not have felt happier with each child’s achievement and with the wonderful audience response–I found myself the next morning seeing a clear example in the work that the North Room was engaged in of what we mean by a child-centered curriculum. One never knows what day will hold that most meaningful moment that is so elusive to capture and yet represents what we work all the time to achieve: the perfect blending of content with the child’s own purposes when the teacher is able to take hold of that possibility, recognize its meaning, and translate it to others. It may not be noticed so readily by the outside observer, and it stands in contrast to the teacher directed show that the children participated so happily in just the night before, but what happened that next morning was the children’s own. Because we were moving the Big Blocks downstairs in the afternoon to free classroom space for new pursuits, Eileen decided to have her children build that morning with the blocks one last time. She gave them the task of working again in their biome groups; but now they were going to make a museum and present an exhibit to adults in the building and the children in the kindergarten.
Each visitor to the exhibit was given a slip of paper to take to the four regions. Upon learning of each area, the museum-goer received a stamp to show that she had participated. The presenters were the children who had created the dioramas and the books; each one became even more knowledgeable about his particular area as he was asked to comment about it and to read his own book many times. Because the children were creating a museum, and not just presenting in a staid fashion in front of the class, active “learning by doing” was taking place. Drama was involved, the kind of drama that comes when children are recreating the real world and are reinvesting it with real meaning. Intellectual content was being reviewed; skills at public speaking and presenting were being practiced. Younger children came away with the sense of having had a special moment in their school year–a museum right here at school. I came away wanting to write about the experience for me as a teacher; the organic nature of the moment re-taught me what I most believe in. I was witness to it; that particular transcending classroom experience reminded me of why we go to school together, children, yes, and teachers, too.
Educating for Global Competence
The following post is taken from the Ampersand, Lake and Park’s school blog, as published on May 29th 2016.
In Educating for Global Competence, Veronica Boix-Mansilla, and Anthony Jackson define global competence as “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.” The Asia Society website goes on to explain: In this context, the word “global” refers not just to different places on the planet, but to the great variety of interconnected people, cultures, ideas, problems, and opportunities that constitute all human experience. The globally competent student learns how to synthesize information and ideas from many sources and perspectives, and makes well-informed decisions to act on what is learned. It is this constellation of knowledge, disposition, and action that characterizes Global Leadership.
Easel painting of the well in Laos.
Curiosity Cabinet ready to begin a new unit of study.
At what age can a child begin to practice this awareness? At Lake and Park School, we focus on a child-centered approach, anchoring a child’s investigation of the world with interactive and concrete materials, while at the same time encouraging them to follow their curiosity. Children naturally seek out fairness and justice within the classroom community, but we do not feel they should take on the problems of the adult world. Our concern is that the complex realities of a difficult world may upset the safe learning environment that is essential to maintaining a place where every child can thrive. A sense of security comes from the physical environment and also from the social-emotional realm. As we learn to practice empathy within our community, there are times when the need to act within the larger world comes to the surface. Our work this spring raising funds to build a well at KM 48 Primary School in Paksong, Laos was one of these times. What made it irresistible was the certainty that the Lake and Park students would be instrumental in forming a solution to a problem that had become meaningful to them.
This spring several different opportunities came together to create a powerful learning experience for everyone in the Lake and Park Community. What began as a study of immigration blossomed into an investigation of identity, refugees, and access to clean water – a basic human need. We connected with local resources; the World Affairs Council of Seattle and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jhai Coffee House in Laos. We had planned a study of Ireland and the history of Irish immigration to the United States the previous summer. As usual, the responsiveness and collaboration of the teaching team, the involvement of our parent community, and an awareness of global issues came together to influence the evolution of this multilayered study.
Primary Class brainstorming about identity.
Early in the study, the focus was on identity. How do we define who we are? Where did we come from? How did we get here? Family Trees were created in many different ways throughout the school. Students used a variety of art materials; paints, crayons, collage and photos to compile personal family trees. There was a lot of discussion about why people move from place to place. Both positive reasons like opportunity and education or adventure and difficult reasons like war, hunger, and a search for a safe place to raise a family arose and were considered. As we created a shared vocabulary to talk about our personal stories we also established a means to talk respectfully about another person’s situation with compassion.
Parents and friends came to tell their family stories.
We asked, what might we do to ease the transition for someone coming to Seattle today?
“Invite the person to play,” answered Marjerie Lamarre after sharing her story of moving from Haiti to New York as a young person..
Using the Irish immigration to the United States in the late 1800’s as a focus, many fiction, and non-fiction picture books were shared. Chapter books about Ellis Island and immigration were read, and students wrote their fictional stories inspired by historical photographs. A visit to the Wing Luke Museum of Asian American Identity leads to thinking about Seattle’s position on the world map and reasons it was a gateway for Asian immigration to the United States.
Children in the Beginning Class share a potato snack while learning about Ireland.
Role playing life in the New York tenements at the Nordic Heritage Museum
Sketching in the market at the Wing Luke Museum
An invitation to visit the Gates Foundation came at the perfect time to further investigate people’s access to clean water. When basic human needs are not met, people have to leave their homes, often becoming refugees. The World Affairs Council Citizen Essay topic for 2016, asking students to think critically as global citizens by addressing one of the most critical issues of our time: the worldwide water crisis, directly related to our visit and the research students could do at the Gates Foundation.
On the Seattle Monorail traveling to the Gates Foundation.
Students took notes for their speeches while working at the Gates Foundation.
Students in the upper grades all wrote speeches in response to the proposed topic:
”Worldwide water crises are among the most critical concerns of this century. You have successfully applied for a large grant from the Gates Foundation to address a pressing global water issue. What is the main issue that you will address with the grant and why?”.
Their speeches were shared with the entire school creating a meaningful opportunity to practice public speaking skills. Everyone across the grades began to think about the importance of water.
Feeling the weight of a bucket of water brings deeper understanding.
Each student researched and wrote a speech.
Sharing water crisis solutions with the whole school.
Collages, poetry, and paintings were created expressing individual understanding about the necessity for clean water.
Earth Day collage created by a student in the Primary Class.
Posters were created to remind classmates about the Read-a-Thon.
It was about this time that we learned about the philanthropic work Tyson Adams was doing in Laos through his business, Jhai Coffee House. He was using the profits from his coffee sales to build wells in schoolyards across Laos. Once a well is in place, Tyson goes to the school and teaches the children the importance of good sanitation to prevent illness. The students at Lake and Park already had learned that diarrhea and other diseases caused by unclean water were the major cause of illness and death for children under five around the world. If we could raise $2000, we could pay for a well. We could make a positive difference in the world.
Classes began to learn about the country of Laos, through map exploration, websites, books, and video. Everyone became more curious about this faraway place we had never really thought about before. We exchanged videos with Tyson; classes recorded questions they had and Tyson answered them on a video we shared at school.
Students used Nat Geo’s Mapmaker Interactive to learn more about Laos.
Students keep track of books read for the read-a-thon.
We set parameters for a read-a-thon that would raise the money we needed while helping families establish a positive reading routine at home. Students were challenged to read for thirty minutes a day and to read longer chapter books with a global focus. Children asked family and neighbors to sponsor their reading during the month of April. Everyone at school was talking about the books they were reading, and the shared purpose of building a well added meaningful incentive for even the most reluctant readers. By the time May 1 rolled around students had raised a total of $8505. The first well was dug by mid-May. Just this last week Tyson visited us at school in Seattle. It was a warm meeting and a great moment, when the children felt the empowerment of helping to make something real that begins to solve a problem that is so complex.
Tyson receives a warm, musical welcome and a giant check from Lake and Park.
“A Well” by Jordi
"Life of Water” by Elan
The Importance of Water