Round about mid-May, summer-itis infects most fourth grade classes. Who can blame them? They have been listening to me yap about fractions and quotations marks for close to nine months and Humboldt County is a glorious playground in the summer. They want to be outside! I have a few curricular “tricks” to help alleviate the symptomatic wiggles, but it is a very difficult disorder to cure.
While this particular infection doesn’t require the use of shots or mask wearing (phew!), social distancing can help. Known to cause short attention spans and wiggly butts, my usual go-to vaccine for alleviating summer-itis is doing a three week physics unit around force and motion. It culminates with student using alka-seltzer tablets to shoot off pop rockets. The promise of a future “bang” does wonders to help focus attention. I also know that if I mention the word “horse”, Rosa will be paying attention to the conversation. (While conversations about horses are a valuable addition to my medicine cabinet, that particular remedy is pretty person specific!)
When I got the news that I would (finally) be going to Peru for 1o days this summer to fulfill my Teachers for Global Classrooms Fulbright commitment, I immediately started wondering if learning about a faraway country could cure students in the same way that an “explody” science lessons does. I knew that learning about Peru would be right in Ollie’s educational wheelhouse. A history buff, he is extraordinarily motivated to learn anything about history and geography. That said, I wasn’t as sure if this study would be engaging for every fourth grader. (I needn’t have worried!)
I decided to go for it. I changed horses in mid stream. Despite my love of science, I dropped the explosions. Peru it was. Initially, the goal was simply to have each student create a short, multimedia informational report ( a few seen on this post.) This particular gaggle of scholars is astoundingly curious and awfully tech savvy, so I was expecting some top notch stuff. They didn’t disappoint. Colorful, well-researched, (mostly) grammatically correct reports that ranged from ancient Peruvian history, geography, the Amazon, wildlife in the Andes, ancient ruins, to food unique to Peru.
But the class’ inquisitive nature and ability to reason led us in a more interesting direction, as well. They weren’t limited to scouring the internet for more facts about Peru. In the midst of our deep dive into Machu Picchu (fascinating on so many levels!), a lively debate arose regarding who actually built the ancient ruin. Some websites claimed that the Incas could not possibly have built the site. The main point of the sites’ argument was that this ancient civilization did not have metal tools or the technological chops to build this feat of engineering. It must have been aliens. Websites were compared, sources checked, expert testimony was heard. In the end, Benji, along with the rest of the fourth grader class, used evidenced-based reasoning to come to the conclusion that Machu Picchu was NOT built by aliens. Instead, they reasoned that the Incas developed the technical skills over a long period of time by trial and error and by using techniques borrowed from those cultures that they had absorbed into their empire. All that being said, Sam (more on my traveling buddy tomorrow) and I will be double checking for any evidence of aliens in the “hidden room” (ask a fourth grader about it!) when we are standing on top of that spectacular ancient ruin in a few weeks.
Our studies took a more personal turn in the following weeks. Stay tuned for the next post…
BTW Don’t tell August that we were going to do pop rockets last May. He LOVES explosions!!!!
And, Don’t forget to leave a comment or question below. Let me know what you think or what you’re curious about.