Gone are the days when an elementary-school teacher can devote a neat little cubicle of time to teaching science, geography or history. In order to expose students to these subjects, today's teachers must find creative ways to integrate them into the overall mandated reading/writing curriculum where they can be taught within the basic 2 1/2-hour daily literacy block. Fortunately, that can be made an ideal venue too, because students can properly read and conduct research on topics of interest within such a time-frame.
In this unit I plan to take a unique approach and teach world history by using the travel narrative of the famous 14th century Muslim globe-trotter, Ibn Battuta, who set off to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325 and didn't return home until 29 years later. We will focus on his final journey in 1353 from Morocco to the kingdom of Mali, West Africa and see history unfold before his eyes. Along the way we will gain valuable insights into African and Muslim beliefs of that time and a special focus will be placed on studying the Hajj in all its detail. His travels will provide the larger context for exploring a variety of related topics of particular interest to my young learners including caravan travel by camel, the Tuareg, the hazards of desert travel, and the founder of Mali, Sundiata. Of particular appeal to third-grade students will be the additional unit focus on the very colorful historical figure, Mansa Musa, the great ruler of the flourishing Mali empire (from 1312 to 1337) who was often referred to as 'the Black Moses'. His legendary pilgrimage in 1324 to Mecca by way of Egypt, accompanied by a lavish African entourage, will provide a marvelous opportunity to stimulate student interest in further reading and research.
I have found an absolute wealth of excellent resources, books as well as online sources, which will serve to make history come alive for my young learners. There's so much to cover so let's get on our way. Bring along a full canteen of water, some good walking shoes, and your spirit of adventure!