Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bringing the Ancient World to Life

The 4th grade classroom was briefly renamed the “Cairo Conference Center” on Tuesday afternoon as the students prepared to host the Egyptian Symposium, a highlight of their social studies program. This event marks the culmination of several months’ investigation into the history and influence of ancient Egypt. The room was transformed into a lecture hall, featuring a panelists’ table and plenty of room for a large and well-informed audience.

Throughout the winter, each student has engaged in an independent research effort about a particular aspect of Egyptian culture, consisting of a written paper and a visual project. Model pyramids, trading cards, a Sphinx, a variety of posters, and other displays were in full view during the symposium, and exhibited with great pride by their creators. Many students studied similar topics. During the afternoon, panel groups took their turns in the speakers’ chairs to share their knowledge. A question session followed each panel. If one member of the group was unsure about the answer to a question, the rest of the panelists filled in details from their own research.

The symposium is the 4th graders’ first significant oral presentation, and Mrs. Holman took the opportunity to teach the students about the importance of delivering their information effectively. Voice, eye contact, and confidence in the material are all essential. She challenged them to be creative and to find ways of explaining what they had learned so that they could engage the audience as much as possible. Simply reading their research papers was not sufficient; the children were required to identify key points and speak from memory or from brief notecards.

Topics ranged from religion to arts to home life to architecture and toys and games in ancient Egypt (did you know that children have been playing with marbles as far back as 5000 years?) to a description of modern Cairo. One student, speaking about religion, took on the role of an important goddess and explained how all the other goddesses were related. Another member of her panel pointed out that Egyptian magic was not at all the same as Harry Potter magic. During a discussion of the pyramids, a student spoke from the point of view of Khufu’s pyramid, explaining the various items in his interior. In a presentation on the arts, a student brought a CD of music from Ancient Egypt, providing an audio accompaniment to her research.

Many of the students’ visual projects are on display in the library. Come and tour our own museum of ancient culture and find out how much our 4th graders have learned.

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