This year, we are building upon a number of key concepts related to the human experience through the panorama of history. Last year, students learned about exploration, the settlement of the New World colonies, and the causes of the American Revolution.
The United States Constitution
We have now followed this time line to the period in which our Constitution was crafted and ratified by the Continental Congress in 1787. Our students have just completed this year's study of the writing of our Constitution, with a special focus on our Bill of Rights.
Students will choose a related topic... one of the first ten amendments to our Constitution, an issue related to the workings of our government, or...a historical personality from our Constitutional Convention, to research for their unit study. Comprehensive understanding of their subject will be a primary goal and, to that end, they will brainstorm a range of ideas that will need to be addressed in order to gain that knowledge. For example - when researching an amendment from our Billof Rights, - among their tasks will be to:
1) find and read the original amendment.
2) research the amendment and break down the ideas into simpler, more manageable "chunks" - translating it into easy-to-understand modern-day English.
3) Give some historical context for the reasons that the amendment was created, and,
4) cite one modern-day example that would support the rationale for its continued protection of citizens today.
Our students may create posters, newsletters, Powerpoint presentations, newscasts, and dioramas (among numerous choices...) to demonstrate their research and their arguments.
During our yearly class trip to The Westchester County Board of Legislators, the children are asked to debate a variety of issues and, confronting the problems as lawmakers, discuss and vote for - or against the ratification of new legislation.
Immigration: A Journey Through Ellis Island, Angel Island... And Beyond
We will be completing an investigative experience into the circumstances under which many people, from nations around the world, made fateful decisions to leave their homelands, their belongings, and even their loved ones behind to begin a new life in these United States.
Students will read picture books, magazine articles, historical fiction, and reference materials, as well as watching video documentaries as part of their process in understanding the immigrant experience.
We will have our yearly grade-level trip to Philadelphia to see where our government - and our country - began via a visit to our National Constitution Center where we will experience a theatrical performance, time spent at their museum exhibits, and a thorough walking tour of historic Philadelphia - with a guided tour of Independence Hall, where we will see the site of our country's Constitutional Conventions and signings of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Depending on time and crowds, we'll also try to have a viewing of Pass and Stowe's Liberty Bell.
We are, once again, contemplating a trip to Ellis Island, after their long closure from Hurrican Sandy. Should this trip be resurrected, the students, in groups with parent chaperones, would take part in a carefully crafted treasure hunt. The purpose of the activity is two-fold. Largely, the students will be given a list of artifacts to find throughout the museum and will be asked thoughtful, reflective questions designed to help them to see immigrants as "real people" coping with the problems of adapting to a new, wonderful, and difficult world, rather than as abstract, historical figures. We also want to give our students the opportunity to see as much of the museum center as is possible in the given time frame, so the treasure hunt requires a visit to virtually all public areas of the facility.
Finally, student culminating projects will be primarily self-created and self-directed. A study structure is accomplished by holding a variety of brainstorming sessions in which the students assemble a logical list of questions to which they are interested in finding answers, and a list of possible formats that satisfies the project requirements... which will, hopefully, also appeal to their creativity. Time management is also a consideration in making choices, and learning these skills is an important component of achieving success for each student.
Ultimately, our students learn to evolve this distillation of important material and experiences into Powerpoint presentations, posters, diaries, dioramas, and even performance pieces.
Through this unit of study, they have the opportunity to learn more about the research process, hone their writing skills, consider the audience to whom they are communicating, and use technology to make their presentations more dynamic.
Capstone Inquiry Project
We will embark on the most complex unit of study for the year... one that integrates a majority of skill-sets that our students will have been acquiring during their time here at Edgewood. This project is designed to incorporate the goal of self-directed inquiry with the research and writing strategies that have been taught thus far - adding the art & sciences of critical questioning to this cognitive blend.
Students are learning how to begin with a variety of plausible ideas and develop appropriate questions that draw them into specific research segments. With each question, the children will be exposed to a process by which new and more focused questions emerge, giving them their broad inquiry idea and accompanying sub-topics.
We will become engaged in the first two stages of forming inquiry questions and narrowing their focus with subsequent questioning. A first major goal will be the selection of their unit inquiry question so that they can begin their research. As was indicated on the Capstone Contract that is sent home, students will need to consider a resource person to be interviewed and a site visit that is in some way connected to the inquiry topic.
Students will choose their inquiry question, and complete their pre-research to find out whether or not there are enough resource materials to continue with this inquiry, or to choose an alternate. Topic questions are whittled down, incrementally, from ten, to seven, to five, to three finals - one first choice and two alternates.
Discussions take place to show how any one inquiry can be related, or connected, to a variety of sub-inquiries,
such as: Art, Architecture, Culture, Literature, Daily Life, Politics, Geography, Science, Economics, Math, Music, and Architecture/Engineering. Then, the students are charged, over time, with generating a list of sub-questions that reflected these connections. As they do their research, they try to match the information they find with a sub-question, so that an explanation might be clarified.
As they generate their sub-topics and discover their answers, they are also researching and preparing for an interview related to their work, and for a site visit (if possible) to a venue that is also connected to their project.
We spend some time watching videos of professional, journalistic interviews by Charlie Rose (PBS), Diane Sawyer (ABC), and Katie Couric, and listening to radio podcasts by journalists at NPR. In using these as models, students can better formulate meaningful questions for their interviews, which will yield (ideally) the kinds of responses that will aid in answering their sub-questions.
Our students are being encouraged to express their understandings in a variety of ways - beyond a simple written report. In addition to an anchor tri-fold presentation board, they also have the options to create: a TED Talk, a podcast, a video, a Keynote/Powerpoint presentation, a performance piece (musical or dramatic), a diorama, an artifact reproduction, or a board game - in any combination. While it is highly unlikely to create all of these iterations, we encourage them to enfold several into their final presentation.
Their Capstone projects demonstrate an accumulation of skills and experiences garnered during their time here at Edgewood, revealing what truly amazing learners they can be.