May 18, 2012

4th Grade History Projects

Now that Miriam is in 4th grade I thought it was high time she started doing a little more work.  More work to me means more reading!  Also, I wanted Miriam to learn to fill out book reports as she fights writing only slightly less now than she did when she was 5 and first learning. 

My other purpose was that I wanted Miriam to learn to synthesize information.  It is a critical skill for research papers and critical thinking.  I taught my 7th graders how to write a research paper and none of them had rudimentary synthesis skills.  By that I mean none of them knew how to take information out of a book or off the internet and use it to create something new--like a research paper.  Not that I'm blaming their prior teachers--its just that there are so many requirements now that teachers have to pick and choose and research isn't a top priority in the elementary grades. 

Since I'm an English and history teacher, I'll just own the hubris and say my subjects are the most critical!  Especially the ability to research and evaluate sources, aka critical thinking.  I think 4th grade is the perfect age to start. 

To introduce synthesis in a more structured way (I'm sure you've been doing it all along with your kids without labeling it) I told Miriam that she had extra assignments for history.  I made it a big deal in that she was old enough to do something special and I showed her a bunch of special project options that involved crafting.  She was won over in about 3 seconds flat.  For each area of the world, I require her to read two books and then take the information she learned from those books and create something new.  She also has to fill out a book report for each of the books. 
 For Mesopotamia I had Miriam read To Ride the God's Own Stallion by Diane Lee Wilson and Mesopotamia edited by Sherman Hollar.  It was a pretty heavy duty non-fiction, longer than any other non-fiction she's read.  There was no whining and periodically she'd call me over to see something or tell me about something she'd learned.  I'll admit, I was impressed.  I'm aiming for one non-fiction and one fiction for each geographical area, but I'm flexible. 
Miriam chose to make a ziggurat for her special project.  I let her use a razor blade, the first time ever, and she felt very grown up.  This project took a little bit more of Mom's involvement than I am hoping for in the future.  However, she did learn things that are important, like how to measure and plan and make a paper model first to iron out the wrinkles.
Then she painted.  And played.  And played.  And painted.  She's the only girl I know who can talk to herself--well, the paint bottles were talking--for two hours while painting.  It was hilarious to listen to.  The blue parts are the Tigris and Euphrates River. 
Voila.  A ziggurat. 
Cowen is already begging to get to do special history projects. 

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