April 10, 2013

Unquenchable Curiosity and Creative Imagination

TC Natalie Burgard with 5th graders taking
a virtual trip around the world
This is part two of a featured article on our Teacher Candidates’ integrated curriculum units. 

You may remember from last week, long long before the snow day, that our Teacher Candidates had to design an integrated thematic unit of study (of at least ten lessons) that centered on a main topic. While teaching the unit, TCs were asked to incorporate literacy, science, math, social studies, art, music, and physical education, tying each lesson to Colorado Academic Standards, as well as going on a field trip or bringing in a guest speaker.

What follows are summaries written by our TCs in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

Third grade: Solar System, Britt Alstad Third graders have been exploring our solar system. They have presented their research in many ways from posters about planets to travel brochures.  The third grade got a sense of the magnitude of the solar system, creating different scientific models showing size and distance. They sang and danced through the facts of The Solar System Song. Exploring space came to life when they built models of space rovers. In writers’ workshop, they explored the craft of poetry and used information they learned about the solar system as the basis for their poems. In readers' workshop, theyread biographies about people associated with the solar system from Newton, Tycho Brahe, Hubble and Einstein to Neil Armstrong and Christa McAuliffe. They studied scientists of today and profiled men and women who work for NASA and The Jet Propulsion Lab. We have more than one aspiring NASA scientist in third grade!

Fourth grade: Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Pearsall  Our unit kicked off with a guided tour of the interactive Da Vinci Machines Exhibition at the Denver Pavilions.  The students really enjoyed
uncovering the magic behind da Vinci’s inventions and experiencing his design and mechanisms firsthand.  In the weeks following, our fourth graders really challenged their minds and imaginations to invent, create, and problem solve like Leonardo.  The class brainstormed modern problems and designed inventions to solve them and their ideas included flying cars, luxury submarines, and snowball throwers.  Students learned about hidden paintings and music theories and how science and research has uncovered new information about Leonardo and his genius.  The class had an informal debate and discussion surrounding theories that da Vinci hid musical compositions within his artwork and students supported their opinions with critical analysis and reasoning.  Da Vinci’s celebration took place just before spring break.  Highlights included period costumes, a presentation given by the students, Odes to Leonardo, and a gallery showing of inventions and Modern Mona Lisas. 

Fifth grade: Around The World – Explore, Experience, Expand, Natalie Burgard  By taking a virtual trip around the world, students had the opportunity to “visit” new countries, explore those cultures and the magical world we live in. When we learn about others and expand our awareness of humanity, it allows us to see more of our similarities than differences and the importance of equality and universal human rights.  Throughout the unit, we explored specific cultures more deeply through research, reading, music, art and PE. We expanded their skills in geography by using their knowledge of locations, latitude and longitude to plan the logistics of their trip. Through calculating plane tickets and daily budgets, math skills were reinforced in the basic functions, along with new skills in budgeting and problem solving.  Our science lesson showed how human beings are 99.9% similar on a DNA level, and our visible differences are really only skin deep!  To further our understanding of culture and equality, we studied the origin of Black History month and universal human rights.  As the final project, students choose one country of focus, on which they read, researched, wrote, and presented. At the “World Fair”, the final culmination of the project, the kids got to show off what they’ve learned about their country, read their writing, share what they’ve cooked and invite parents to participate. The overall purpose of this unit was to expand cultural awareness, promote a vision of equality amongst humanity and inspire travel.  The overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and depth of learning expressed by students showed that it was a success! 

Every time I visit our classrooms and experience the multitude of ways in which our students are learning, I wish I could have gone to a school like this.  The way our teachers encourage our students to be curious and to make connections to what they already know, and to do it in meaningful ways, is extraordinary.

At the end of Mary’s summary about her curriculum unit on Leonardo da Vinci, she wrote:

A big thank you goes out to all of our parents who supported our efforts and who attended our field trip and celebration.  I would also like to thank my fourth graders for their unquenchable curiosity and creative imagination, they really made this unit their own and brought da Vinci’s world back to life.  

“Unquenchable curiosity and creative imagination” – the gift that our Friends’ School students, and our Teacher Candidates, keep giving us.

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