Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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LINK: Social Studies in Action Home Image of an elementary school student.
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About the Class
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About the Class

Classroom Profile | Lesson Background

Read this information to better understand the lesson shown in the video.

Content: Holidays
St. Nicholas Day -- December 6
The figure we call Santa Claus is based on an actual bishop named Nicholas, who lived in Europe during the fourth century. According to legend, St. Nicholas (as he is referred to today) was a wealthy man who loved children. Although he is depicted differently, depending upon the religious traditions and customs of the country, his birthday -- December 6 -- is celebrated throughout Europe. On St. Nicholas Eve, children set out their shoes for him to fill with treats.

Ms. Mesmer reading to her class.St. Lucia Day -- December 13
St. Lucia Day is celebrated in Sweden as a festival of lights. The oldest girl child in the family dresses in a white gown and red sash with a wreath of twigs and blazing candles on her head. In the early morning hours of December 13, she awakens her family with a tray of steaming coffee and saffron buns. Originally the holiday was celebrated on the shortest day of the year, the lit candles a reminder that the days would soon be getting longer.

Kwanzaa -- December 26-January 1
Kwanzaa is a cultural festival introduced to the United States from Africa in 1977. Named after the Swahili word kwanza, which means "beginnings," Kwanzaa celebrates the harvesting of the first crops and the African tradition of communal sharing. During the seven days of celebration, African Americans join together in feasting and song to honor the traditions and beliefs of their ancestors, which include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Las Posadas -- December 16-December 24
In Mexico, Christmas lasts nine days in a celebration called Las Posadas. Each day, between December 16 and December 24, children walk in a procession (posada) carrying clay figures of the biblical Mary, Joseph, and the donkey. They call on the houses of neighbors and friends, stopping outside each one to sing a song that asks for food and lodging for the weary Mary and Joseph. At each home they are told, "There is no room at the inn." At the last house of the evening there is a party and a piñata. On the last evening of the celebration, December 24, a manger, a stable, and shepherds are added to the procession of clay figures. Mary and Joseph are welcomed into the last home at which they stop, prayers are said, and a figurine representing the baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Families then go to church to pray. Religious services are followed by parties and celebrations.

Hanukkah -- eight days and nights (beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev)
Hanukkah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, marks the end of the war between Antiochus IV, King of Judea, and the Maccabees. According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem in 165 B.C., they found the holy Temple in ruins and the altar destroyed. Upon rebuilding the altar and restoring the Temple, Judas Maccabee searched for oil to light the menorah (branched candelabrum). But the Roman soldiers had smashed the jars of oil, and only enough oil was found to last one day. Miraculously, however, the oil burned for the eight days -- long enough for more oil to be made.

Christmas -- December 25
A public holiday in Christian countries and celebrated predominantly in Western churches, this holiday commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was not merely a prophet, but the Son of God, who opened the gates of heaven by sacrificing his own life for the lives of mankind. The tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas is meant to symbolize gifts given to the infant Jesus by three wise men from the East. Gifts are placed under a decorated tree on Christmas Eve, and opened on Christmas morning. Legends of the Christmas tree's origins tell of Jesus rewarding some act of kindness by touching an evergreen tree and making it glow to bring happiness and joy.

Winter Solstice -- December 21
Because the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year (has the fewest number of daylight hours), many ancient traditions surround this holiday. Some are frightening. For example, some ancients believed that the sun would not return, and without sun, all life on Earth would die. Ceremonies were held to pray for the sun's return. Today, celebrations are more heartwarming. They are rather an opportunity to rejoice at the return of light, as each day for the next several months after the solstice has a few minutes more of daylight than the one before it.

Solstices happen twice a year -- when the sun is at its greatest distance north or south of the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place around December 21 or 22 and the summer solstice around June 21 or 22. In the Southern Hemisphere, it's just the opposite.

Two of Ms. Mesmer's students working at a table.Teaching Strategy: Integrated Curriculum
Ms. Mesmer teaches social studies as part of an integrated curriculum that includes elements of science, art, and English language arts. An integrated curriculum is more reflective of the real world where subjects are not always defined and categorized by separate disciplines. Integrating subjects in the classroom allows students - not limited by artificial boundaries -- to make natural connections between content areas and, in doing so, construct their own meaning. It also helps students develop skills they will need in the workplace.

An integrated curriculum may involve one or all of the following:

  • examining a topic from different points of view (disciplines)
  • a greater emphasis on projects
  • using a variety of sources and materials in addition to the class textbook
  • encouraging students to recognize the relationships among and between concepts
  • using thematic units as organizing principles
  • flexible schedules
  • flexible student groupings

When teachers develop integrated curriculum units, they often begin with a list of major concepts and processes they expect to teach. Then they endeavor to make learning meaningful by asking students a series of essential guiding questions that connect content across curricula. These questions, usually two to five per topic, reflect the teacher's learning outcomes and conceptual priorities.

Alternatively, teachers may begin by presenting students with a specific topic (e.g., holidays). Upon deconstructing that topic with the teacher, students will likely discover its component parts are derived from separate disciplines (e.g., social studies and science). Teachers can point out the cross-curricular connections and use the integrated curriculum as a jumping off point for further discussions about how topics and subjects are related.

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