10-12 year olds are beginning to navigate their place in the world. Their scope is expanding and they are starting to see the “big picture” forming around them. Our social studies content aligns with this developmental change; our curriculum is called World Regions, Cultures, and Global Issues. Produced by National Geographic, this curriculum is current and expansive. We’ve been getting our feet wet with a general overview of geography and global issues to ensure students know the basics before we fully dive into individual regions and cultures.
We began by doing a comparing/contrasting, small group, discussion activity. Students read an informational summary about current global issues affecting our lives (water resources, migration, climate change, human rights, etc). Each student practiced their reading, analyzing, and debating skills as the groups discussed every topic through the lens of state, nation, and world views. How does the issue of “food supply” look different in an Alaskan village, versus the Bronx, versus rural Tanzania? It was impressive to see each group independently working and collaborating about such complex topics. Hearing words like, “People really should care more about this because…” makes me proud to be in education.
We shifted to a lighter note and began talking about creating communities. How do you set up a town? What are the most important factors to consider? Students were placed into pairs and given the challenge to create their own community. First, they needed to prioritize their decisions. Do you want public transportation or would people need a car to get around? Do you want everyone to have individual homes or are apartment complexes more efficient? Is there an advantage to putting the school next to the library or should it be near the park? This was a creative assignment, so along with the “city planning” students also added their own special touches (an acidic monstrous lake, a strip mall, a communal giant strawberry, and much, much more). Each team presented their creations to the class; we’ve continued to make strides to becomes more and more comfortable with public speaking. They’re doing great!
Maps were our next focus. Students now know the geographical locations for all 7 continents and 5 major oceans. Students learned about the nine components of maps, map projections, political maps versus physical maps, and thematic maps. Many students were surprised there were so many types of maps and that all maps distort the earth in some way. We all sketched our own maps of Anchorage, incorporating symbols for our favorite places around town. Google Earth was a tool that got everyone excited. Not only did we hop around Anchorage but we traveled to Panama, Idaho, Hawaii, China, Tanzania, and Maine (of course). Students wrote insightful reflections using a “Before I thought ____. Know I now _______” template. Their learning was contagious!
We do many short activities to reinforce learning. We played an active game in the gym where students were in pairs and one person had his/her eyes closed, while the other had to give directions to a hidden object. The caveat was the clue-giver could only use cardinal points for their directions. Students became human compasses! They also completed differentiated written assessments as well as an online, interactive assessment. However, their favorite way to demonstrate their learning is during our weekly Jeopardy battle, but that is a conversation for another day.
Learning Social Studies is invaluable and especially critical for today’s world. Studying geography, history, economics, civics, culture, and global issues will expose our students to many new details about the world they live in. I feel lucky to be a part of their exploration. Through a range of activities, their ideas blossom and their global perspectives broaden as they learn about things that matter to them and the other 7+ billion people with whom they share the world. Our 5th and 6th grade students truly are exceptional learners who are becoming independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity.