The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fourth graders find learning US geography can be fun

At the March 4 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting, fourth-grade teachers Ken Ashe, Jason Naroff and Liz Gray and Special Educator Connie McGrath, highlighted some of the assignments students are undertaking as they learn U.S. geography. Naroff noted a goal is to include cross-curricular activities in art, music, media, language arts and physical education. A number of geography skills are developed such as locating and describing U.S. regions, states, state capitals, state resources and climates.

Fourth-grade teacher Ken Ashe shows an example of the “State Fair” geography assignment. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

One of the first assignments students complete is a “challenge to their map-making skills,” said Ashe. Students are assigned a state and through research they identify physical landmarks, bodies of water, capital cities and rivers, “as well as learning how to interpret a political map,” he said. Students create small maps of their state, labeling important information. “Neatness is also important,” he added. Language arts skills that are stressed, noted Naroff, include non-fiction research and writing and geographic vocabulary, such as the word “agriculture.” Ashe said that students “spent a lot of time down here in the library” learning research techniques with Carlisle School Librarian, Sandy Kelly.

“The initial focus is to get kids excited about researching a particular state.” Ashe said many students become so interested in “their” state that they try to arrange family trips. “I had one girl who came in every morning to tell me something about Kentucky,” he said. “When Kentucky was hit by the ice storm she was the first to tell me.”

Parents, other classrooms involved

Ashe said there are several assignments, but “What happens, where?” is a favorite. After choosing five US cities “the kids are asked to go home and interview their parents,” explained Ashe. The students collect their parents’ concepts of what is associated with those cities. The results are collected on a large map, along with a student-created key. “For example,” said Ashe, “in California they picked wine, in Texas they picked oil, and in Florida they picked hurricanes.” Students research why regions are associated with products or climate features.

To further encourage research and teamwork, students also complete a cross-classroom assignment called the “State Fair.” Four students from each of the four fourth grades were teamed up to research four states. They each chose two attractions in each state. As a team they came up with a tourist itinerary and mapped out a route a tourist would use while visiting the states. The information was displayed on a large tri-fold poster, which also contained summaries, pictures, and details such as foods of the region, what to pack for a visit, and the climate. Ashe added, “It got kids out of their classroom and working collaboratively. It was very exciting.”

Parents were invited to the hour-long State Fair, in December. “It’s my second year and it’s a great turnout,” said Ashe. “We enjoyed putting it on.” Gray agreed. “Geography could be a dry subject,” she said, but the variety of activities keeps the students’ interest high. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito