Gwen Larsen teaches sixth-grade social studies at the Harbor Middle School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. An urban community adjacent to Boston, Dorchester is home to an ethnically and socio-economically diverse population. Many of the residents are recent immigrants. The Harbor Middle School is a pilot school within the Boston public school system that uses its own curriculum based on the expeditionary model, integrating community activities and thematic learning. The classes are small and teachers often stay with the same students for several years. Nearly all of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and many come from single-parent households.
Throughout the year, Ms. Larsen's students studied early hominids, basics of archeology, the Neolithic Age, Mesopotamia, and ancient cultures of Egypt, China, and Greece. The lesson shown in the video, "Explorations in Archeology and History," fell within the unit on archeology; Ms. Larsen used the study of archeological methods as a foundation for a year-long study of civilizations and cultures. Ms. Larsen often used hands-on activities to extend students' understanding. For example, after studying Greek culture, the class put on a Greek festival of plays. Students also wrote screenplays for major historical events, listened to ethnic music, and examined cultural artifacts.
Through her interdisciplinary approach to social studies, Ms. Larsen taught vocabulary and creative writing, as well as history content and skills for individual and group research. In the introductory archeology lesson, students identified parallels between the microcosm of their own heirlooms and oral histories and the macrocosm of the development of world civilizations. By the end of the school year, Ms. Larsen's students had explored diverse components of human cultures across history and had linked their own experiences to those of past and future generations.
Lesson Background >>