The Race to the Moon, 1960's...
Back in the "olden days," before A Nation at Risk, before No Child Left Behind, teachers taught children in a free-form, holistic approach. I remember, as an elementary student, creating a mini-world out of moss and soldier lichens in a mason jar in 3rd grade, creating a cloud in a bottle in 5th grade (with the help of my teacher's lit cigarette -- I know, I know -- but this was the 60's...), learning how to play chess in 5th grade, and dissecting a humongous cow eyeball in 6th grade. We created weather maps, backdrops and props for school plays, and photo albums of our class field trips to a local pond.
Kids these days still do some of these things, but a greater portion of these activities has been condensed to less and less of the weekly schedule, to make way for more explicit skills instruction. We know the reasons for this, some political, some educational. And we have definitely seen that some specific groups of children have historically been "left behind:" students with disabilities, students of color, urban children, poor children, and students who are learning a second language. For many of these groups, our hyperfocus on skills has produced great gains, and we've learned to be better diagnosticians and better teachers. But, alas, we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this skills-focus, as well: kids who passively attend classes, waiting to be "filled" with information; students who do not know how to think, question or wonder, or problem-solve; and children (and teachers!) who question the relevance of the material that is being taught to today.
The Giant Circle
Here we are in 2012. The Common Core State Standards have raised the bar for many educators and their students. The Next Generation Science Education Standards imminent release have schools scrambling to, once again, find time for science instruction in a schedule previously usurped by reading, writing and mathematics, the "testable" subjects. A sluggish American economy has forced districts to more and more with less and less.
There is a movement afoot to return to teaching rich topics, and infuse the literacy and numeracy skills required to learn important scientific and historical ideas: a rising number of "theme" public schools as choices in urban areas; a growing number of charter schools devoted to the arts or sciences; STEM magnet schools emerging across the country. Along with this, there are thousands of teachers trying to go back to the "old" way of teaching, with the "new" way of looking at skills and standards infused within.
I am having a great time working with teachers all over, as they explore favorite topics through the lens of the Common Core State Standards. Here is the first in a series of articles on creating integrated, standards-based curriculum.
Wildflowers and Seeds, an Integrated Study for Fall
I am building an elementary unit for the start of the school year, on wildflowers and seeds. I chose this topic because I have a desire to build a series of studies around short nature walks and hikes that can be conducted anywhere. One of the things the students will readily observe in September is an abundance of late summer wildflowers in flower and bearing seeds.
I know that I want to emphasize several key ideas:
- Nature Study
- Rules, Routines and Procedures for a New School Year
- Describing with Adjectives
Brainstorming, by Content Area
- seed dispersal mechanisms
- observation strategies
- science journals
- nature centers (learning centers)
- weather data (to accompany the skill of observation)
- exploring the 100 grid
- exploring the number line
- navigating the math text book
- exploring number facts (fact families, x tables..)
Everyday Math includes many activities such as these as the entire first unit in many grade levels. I want to include the specific learning task, "Numbers All Around."
- exploring time lines
- exploring maps & globes
The overall focus for social studies will be on building a community of learners.
English Language Arts
- Reading/Literature: Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney (done in "Five in a Row" style)
- Reading/Informative Texts: understanding and using field guides to wildflowers
- Reading/Foundations: using context clues to identify meaning of unknown words in context
- Writing: Perspective of a type of seed (strategy: RAFT paper)
- Language: adjectives and adverbs (strategy: "Dressed Up Sentences")
- Speaking/Listening: asking and answering questions
See links for additional information on the FIAR strategy and RAFT paper details, including purchase information, where applicable.
More About "Five in a Row"
Many homeschoolers develop integrated studies around high-quality children's literature by using a technique called, "Five in a Row" (FIAR). This curriculum building technique, developed by Jane Claire Lambert and Becky Jane Lambert, is an easy, fun way to build a collection of learning tasks that are connected to one another, by using a great book as the connector.
In the wildflowers and seeds unit I am developing, I know that I want to use Miss Rumphius
as my "spine," because the text has an engaging story line, interesting and deep characters, a moral and a clear connection to the science topic (seeds and wildflowers). Because of the quality of the literature, I know that I will be able to consider a great many connections to various content areas, giving me (and my kids) many different ideas for an integrated unit. (Click on the photo for ordering information).
In FIAR, a piece of literature (or a chapter, if it is a novel) is read (or re-read) every day of the week. Each day, learning tasks are developed which correspond to a particular content area. Let's consider Miss Rumphius for a moment:
Monday (Social Studies): All About Maine (geography, topography, history, climate and culture, coastlines... whatever fits my grade-level social studies curriculum)
Tuesday (English Language Arts): A Character Study: Miss Rumphius
Wednesday (Creative Arts): The Dry-brush Watercolor Technique (art response to literature)
Thursday (Applied Mathematics): Our Classroom Weather Calendar (sun index, length of day, high/low air temperature, rainfall... whatever fits my grade-level math measurement standards)
More About RAFT Papers
are a Project CrISS Strategy for helping students organize their writing. The acronym, RAFT, stands for...
For a study of wildflowers to go with Miss Rumphius, how about a study of seed dispersal mechanisms?
- Role = a burdock fruit (burr)
- Audience = a neighborhood cat
- Format = a thank you note
- Topic = helping the burr move to a new home next door
- Role = a poison ivy berry
- Audience = a cedar waxwing (bird)
- Format = a persuasive letter
- Topic = why the two should become friends
- Role = a dandelion tuft
- Audience = the local meteorologist
- Format = a letter to the editor
- Topic = review of the local weather forecasts
- Role = a jewelweed plant
- Audience = little kids
- Format = instructions
- Topic = how to make a seed rocket
More Links on Miss Rumphius