"Broken Shields/Enduring Culture" aligns a variety of assignments from social studies, geography, and nutrition; language arts; fine and applied arts; science and some math to empower students to synthesize through discussion three elements: projects that they create, a variety of writing assignments, and new information about a foreign culture that is at the same time part of the heritage of anyone living on this continent. In the course of this unit, students will:
1) discuss and compare both orally and in writing a tradition that is radically different from the prevailing culture of 20th century America;
2) increase the elaboration in their writing through the new vocabulary learned (key words are underlined in the text) during a concentrated thematic project approach to new events, experiences, and ideas;
3) identify, copy, and use elements of the writing system of Mesoamericans; make and enter information in screenfolds, the documents that predate books in Mesoamerica, following the nonlinear system that was sometimes used of "right to left on the lower register, then in the opposite direction on the upper register" (Gruzinski, 18).
4) study, through the technique of Guided Reading, seven books spanning the genre of realistic fiction, fantasy, history, first-person account, biography, folktale and myth;
5) identify characters, places, and symbols of a major epic when they first begin to study it because of prior study of those story elements;
6) undertake a research project and then by using the techniques of reciprocal teaching--asking for questions, clarification of difficult words and ideas presented, and summaries--share that information with their classmates and families;
7) plan two fiestas based on what they have learned during the unit;
8) progressively create their own environment in the classroom through extensions of their academic work;
9) create their own assessment rubrics for major projects within the unit;
10) synthesize findings from a number of disciplines to create both projects and writing samples during the course of the unit, including their own final assessment. Students might decide to use portions of these final assessments to persuade administrators that aspects of Mesoamerican culture should be a regular part of the curriculum.
Since there are art as well as writing projects in this unit, teachers may wish to give their students a chance to enter an annual state-wide competition offered by IAIS (Institute for American Indian Studies) in Washington, CT (860 868-0518) every spring. Called Connecticut Children's Views of Native America, it invites students kindergarten through high school to submit 2D or 3D works of art and students from the fourth through twelfth grades to submit poetry, essays, or short stories. Works of art in 2D must fit into a 16" x 20" frame; works of art in 3D may be any size but must be submitted for consideration by photographs; poetry and essays must not exceed 500 words and short stories must not exceed 1000. All written pieces must be typed and double-spaced. The submission date for the year 2000 will be on or around the first of May. The education director of the Institute is Mary Foster.
It is my hope that students will gain confidence in their speech and writing as a result of the multidisciplinary approach of this curriculum unit, that they will be excited about becoming experts. It is also my hope that as we move from one mode of learning to another, students will take ownership of their own learning style by identifying and seeking to extend what most enhances their own intellectual growth. Frustrations and the tendency "to shut down" are alleviated as students see the classroom as their own laboratory; some tasks are more pleasant than others, but there will be tasks to perform with success and joy.