Remember the other day when I told you that learning is messy? Well yesterday was another day when that happened in our classroom. But the reason I’m writing about it again is because besides being messy, it was again really successful. Only this time, it was in Social Studies.
Mondays are very unusual days in our classroom. At some points during reading you can look around and only see 5 or 6 kiddos, because of the schedule of pull-outs and other things. And for whatever reason, Social Studies on these days always seems to be really hard for our class.
But this was not one of those days! We’re studying Ancient West Africa, which is hard for many of us to wrap our heads around, since it was so long ago and so far away. We’ve tried at least 3 or 4 different structures and plans to make this unit work for us, but it still seemed like we’d get to the end of the Social Studies time and feel like we weren’t any farther than the day before! Well, today we tried something else.
We’re working on creating class charts–think murals or collages–that highlight all of the things we need to remember for the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. The thinking is focused around the 5 disciplines of Social Studies: history, economics, civics, culture and geography. Here’s some that were made for the Cahokia unit:
Well, this time around the idea was the same, but I changed some of the specifics. Instead of working in groups completely on their own to read, take notes and then create their representation, we met in small groups during Reader’s Workshop to do the reading and research part. I went through the text with each group (each was responsible for a single discipline, all related to Mali), and we read and discussed what we thought was important. A recorder took notes for the group, then before they left the table, we made a plan for what their group was going to make. We decided right then who would do what, and then their group left to get to work. Instead of squeezing this project into just one Social Studies time (I know–crazy, right? I’ve had several good friends tell me how stupid I was to expect it all to get done in 45 minutes!), we used part of our reading block and added on our Social Studies time, too. Altogether, they were able to work for about an hour or more one day, then finish this part today (Tuesday).
I’m not really sure exactly what part worked out the best, but I know for sure it worked. Every group was busy and quiet and focused for the entire time. And when we were finished and I said my usual, “May I have your attention please?”, they knew what I was going to say. This Monday, unlike many others, we were all going home in a good mood, having learned a lot. They knew it was a good time; it just felt different. Our buckets were full and so were our heads–with concepts about Ancient West Africa as well as how to work together towards a common goal. And they came back today determined to figure out how to make it happen again.