6th-Grade Teacher and Unit Organizer
Where did the ideas and lesson plans for the Island Cultures unit come from?
The unit began with simulations called “Looking for a Life” and “Conquest and Consequences” from the Resource Center of the Americas, and an archeology simulation called “DIG” published by Interact.
How long have you been doing this unit?
How has it evolved over the years?
I started using these curricula the first year that FAIR opened. Two years later was the first year all the units were combined and the entire sixth grade was involved. Having all the teachers working on creating artifacts allowed us to collaborate with the arts teachers and the quality of artifacts improved. Last year, for the first time, we were able to put together a museum display for our Learning Fair. I had put together a museum the first year, but it was on a much smaller scale.
How long does the Island Cultures unit last?
The creation of the cultures, the artifacts, and the museum display takes about three-and-a-half months. But I begin to talk about cultural universals earlier in the year.
Did classrooms take different approaches to creating the cultures?
The team talked a great deal, and although our teaching styles differ, I think our approach to creating the cultures was similar. Each classroom, however, had a different number of cultures being created in their room. I had four groups while Rick just had two. In the past I have had two groups of 14 students but I found that there were students who were not participating. This year I lowered the group size to seven students. The students appeared to be overwhelmed, so I plan on trying nine-ten in a group this coming year.
How often do the teachers get together to plan?
The sixth-grade team has a common prep period. The arts staff has a common lunch with us and many times we talk informally to the arts staff about our process. As a team we also delegate who contacts a particular arts teacher.
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Rick Wright, 6th-Grade Teacher
What preparation did the sixth-graders have before they began creating their island cultures?
Sixth-graders begin the year with a literary unit on world folklore and mythology in which we examine various creation myths, legends, and fables. In social studies, we study the American Indian cultures of both North and Central America. One of our science units deals with topography and mapping.
In the program we learn a lot about the student-created culture of Erutan – where does the name Erutan come from?
Erutan, as my students delightedly pointed out, is “nature” written backwards. They based much of their culture on the idea of respect for nature.
How did students create the maps of their islands?
Students were told to imagine and draw the islands upon which they'd landed. There were discussions about natural resources needed to sustain human life, about climate, and topography. We looked at physical and resource maps in world atlases to see what kinds of vegetation and minerals one might expect to find in the region where each team landed. Groups worked together to draw resource maps of their islands. Then, after a mini-session where we looked at topographic maps, students outlined and mapped out the hills, valleys, rivers, lakes, and plains they imagined on their islands, using contour lines to indicate elevation.
How did the students share the information they got from the arts mini-lessons with others in the class?
Students who had been to one of the arts mini-lessons were responsible for reporting back to the rest of their group. In most cases, they gave a general overview of the session and explained how the craft or art form related to culture. They taught the skill learned to a smaller group of teammates who would be responsible for making the required artifacts.
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