When I was in elementary school, the thing I enjoyed most, other than “Sesame Street”, was the games we played in class. I loved when teachers were able to teach us in a fun, creative way. This is the intention of my curriculum unit. “Desert Fever” should be both fun and educational.
The objective is for fourth grade students to learn about people who live in that mysterious land a half a world away from Connecticut: the Middle East. Unfortunately, many of our students live in a very small world: their resources are limited as are their experiences. It is dangerous when what children know comes from a single source. It is even more dangerous if this knowledge does not come at all.
Our students are resourceful and they can be quite empathetic. However, when so many of the schools are still so homogeneous, there is reason to worry about the level of understanding that our students have for other cultures. In addition, there is reason to worry about self-esteem. How can we expect kids to care about others when they do not yet value themselves? In 2002, New Haven produced the lowest test scores of the three big cities in Connecticut. When kids hear teachers and parents talking about these scores, when kids receive their scores and see how they compare with others, it can lead to a negative self-image. If arranged as such, “Desert Fever” can be used to prepare students for the language arts portions of their local and state assessments while also providing a launching pad for the year’s social studies curriculum.
Researching, then constructing, an educational board game finds its roots in student ownership and multiple intelligences. As our kids learn about foreign people and countries, they can also learn about themselves. By mixing independent work with small and large group lessons, students will have the opportunity to assess their own learning style. Aiding kids as they try and work outside of their comfort zone is as important as allowing them to learn what, exactly, their comfort zone is. By challenging them with this student-centered project, we give each student the opportunity to produce a learning tool as well as the chance to overcome any fears they might have about computers, writing and editing, or the biggie, presenting information to their peers.
In conclusion, as important as it is to prepare students for standardized tests, and to meet local and state curriculum goals, it is also vital that our students feel ownership of their work and a responsibility for understanding people who are different from them in some, but not all, ways. Only when students are fully invested do they care about their work. While learning about the Middle East, the class will be building something unique. At the conclusion of the unit, students will have created something truly their own.