Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bringing the World Into the Classroom


Vibrant colors, glowing photographs, and joyful sounds from Africa have brought a welcome burst of sunshine to the lower school hallways during the recent rainy days. As part of a special cross-graded project, our first and second graders have been on a virtual trip to Kenya for the past two weeks. They have been working and studying with all of their teachers to learn about the land, the people, and the culture of this fascinating country.

The unit started with a theater-style presentation by Mrs. Scholes, who had assembled a virtual tour of the country to show images of verdant countryside, bustling cities, national parks, lakes, mountains, and scenes from daily life. The children learned about Lake Victoria, saw amazing pictures of wildlife, and referred to a series of maps to identify important locations. They were introduced to the many indigenous tribes of Kenya and looked at photographs of traditional homes as well as the modern cities of Nairobi and Mombasa. Their discussion incorporated basic geography and map-reading skills, careful observation and attention to detail, an introduction to the environmental challenge of pollution in Lake Victoria, sensitive comments about cultural differences, and excitement about elephants, cheetahs, and lions.

After their large-group lesson, the students were divided into five groups, which were named for prominent Kenyan tribes: the Turkana in the north, the Kikuyu at the foot of Mount Kenya, the Maasai of the west, the Samburu of central Kenya, and the Giriama of the south. The groups took turns meeting with each of the teachers to engage in a project. They strung beads for necklaces and bracelets with Mrs. Fox, painted watercolor renditions of scenes from Kenyan folk tales with Mrs. Chait, built clay models of traditional huts with Mrs. Scholes, and made percussion instruments to accompany storytelling with Ms. DiMartino and Ms. Craik. They heard the story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring trees back to Kenya after devastating deforestation. Mrs. Fell helped the students plant “golden sunshine” wheat seeds in response to the story.

A Kenyan flag hangs alongside Mrs. Scholes’ incredible handmade topographical map in the hallway outside the 2nd grade classroom. Both of these displays are sources of great pride for the students, who will gladly explain their significance to anyone walking by. With their play approaching next week and their excellent collaboration on this country study, these two classes have formed a wonderful and strong sense of community together.

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