Friday, January 29, 1999
Fifth-grade curriculum integrated into comprehensive projects
A million dollars is yours to spend, according to local authority. You have not won the lottery, you are a student participating in the million-dollar project and the local authority is the consortium of fifth-grade teachers in the Carlisle Public School. The fifth-grade academic curriculum was presented at the school committee meeting on January 19.
Fifth-grade teacher Bill Tate introduced the three other teachers to the 84 fifth graders and explained that the curriculum is divided into four activity areas: the ecosystem and ecology, the endangered species, the archeological project on Greece and Egypt, and the million-dollar project.
The school committee heard that the curriculum is more complex than it appears. Research is involved, workable ideas must be selected, categories of expenses are created, and accounting sheets must be filled out. Additionally, documentation must show sources of information and how it was researched. One no longer hears about a curriculum separated into language arts, arithmetic, reading, writing or grammar. These disciplines are integrated into comprehensive projects performed by the students in each activity area.
The million dollar project
Teacher Susan Greene explained that the million-dollar project provides a wonderful learning experience. A million dollars is a great deal of money and to spend that amount requires thought, time and effort. It is a long-term project which requires independent work and follow-through.
This project could be termed a magnificent math exercise with lots of addition and subtraction problems. It is also a research paper requiring writing skills to explain and document major categories. The project provides an opportunity for students to develop problem-solving and analytical thinking skills. Work can be shared, which seems to provide a great deal of fun in the classroom.
As an example, one student took her mother on an Italian shopping spree for a month. This report included many nights and dinners in Italian hotels and restaurants and even some money for the Pope and the homeless. One student took a trip around the world, another developed a go-cart park and another built a million-dollar house.
Ecosystems and ecology
Teacher Julia Hendrix presented the section on ecosystems or ecology which also uses a systems thinking approach. Each student reads the book, The Day They Parachuted Cats into Borneo, by Charlotte Pomerantz, in which one learns the consequences of spraying insecticides. The students determine impact statements and diagram causal loops which illustrate a cause and effect chain. They are studying complex issues as they learn about long-term consequences.
Ancient Greece and Egypt
The public and school community were invited to attend the fifth-grade archeological museum on January 21 which was the culmination of the third major project in the curriculum. Teacher Jennifer MacInnes said each student had prepared a topic and project incorporating an aspect of life in Ancient Greece and Egypt. One student had constructed the Parthenon out of styrofoam and another had illustrated and written about musical instruments. Other students in the school visited the "museum" and were encouraged to ask questions.
Teacher Bill Tate addressed the fourth component of the curriculum with its focus on endangered species. Each student selects and learns 75 facts about an endangered animal. In this science writing project information is shared, sources are contacted, facts are organized into categories, a bibliography is written and articles are studied. They read the book, Julie and the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George and discuss which portions of the book are real and which are fiction. Students then write a fictional piece using 50 of the facts. A highlight of the year is a field trip to the wolf sanctuary in Ipswich where they are able to see a threatened species in its habitat.
The students also learn how to graph and read maps. They study the quest for oil and its implications to plant and animal species, pressures upsetting the ecology of the Amazon rain forest and food chains and food webs.
According to special education teacher Ann James inclusion is definitely her goal in working with all four fifth- grade teachers. Children with a wide variety of learning styles and unique abilities are distributed throughout the four classes.She provides daily support to individual students as well as teachers with everything from low tech assists such as pencil holders to more complicated technological programs.
These four teachers have found a half-hour per week when they can work together as a collaborative group. Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said it was clearly time well spent.Creative, stimulating and relevant learning was obviously taking place in fifth-grade classrooms.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito