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Knowing the Western Hemisphere


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Background / Context

This project is directed toward sixth grade bilingual Spanish/English speaking students. The project gives students an alternative to reading the lengthy social studies text book on the Western Hemisphere that is the grade level text. As part of the project, students work in groups and choose certain countries on which to do in depth studies. The studies include history, geography, economics, climate, culture, tourism, and current events of particular countries. In order to complete the project, students use a variety of skills including language arts, math, speaking skills, as well as, technology skills. The project can be spread out over the entire year or shortened to a semester, as the teacher prefers. Good internet search skills are needed to contact experts and to locate needed information.

Beginning / Getting Started


At the beginning of the year for social studies, we learn about the different geographic areas of the Americas, as well as, basic cultural and language differences. After going through certain basic information, we discuss the first people to inhabit these lands and go on to study the great Indian civilizations including the Maya, Aztecs, and the Incas.

During this time, students are introduced to the concept of engaged learning. They are also introduced to the technological skills needed for the project. They learn what the internet is and how to do searches. They learn what email is and are given their own email addresses. They work on word processing skills in order to be able to communicate with experts and other students at remote sites.

As the year goes on and the students are more comfortable with the technological skills they need, they are introduced to the idea of creating their own materials and contacts for studying more about individual countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. We talk about how difficult it is to understand all of the language presented in our social studies text and discuss how we could find materials in Spanish or in easier to understand English to help us learn better. The suggestion is made that we start our own school in our own classroom and make contact with experts and students both in and out of this country that have first hand information for us to use.

At this point we discuss the roles that would be important to have a good, if not complete, understanding of a country. We need to have a historian first of all. We also need a geographer and a climatologist or meteorologist to study the physical structure of the country. We need an economist and a reporter of current events to let us know the status of the country in the world today. The culture of a country is important to know, so we have a social scientist. Of course, every county has areas of interests to people who like to take vacations in unusual places, so we need a reporter for travel and leisure. All of these are real life occupations to which the students are exposed and are responsible for doing work similar to that which would be done by people in such occupations.

Students are divided into five groups of five to six students in each group. They are given a list of five countries decided by the teacher and then each group chooses one by random. Each group is then asked to choose one additional country that they would like to study. Once the countries of study are determined, each group discusses the roles that are needed in order to cover all areas of study of the country. Once they understand the roles, each student chooses an occupation (role) that they would like to be responsible for. In some cases, one student may need to take on more than one role.

This is a point at which the group is asked think about the role of each student and write a paper in which they write down anything that they know about the countries they are studying from the perspective of each role. This paper is to be done during one class without any research materials. It is saved until the end of the project and compared with the final group presentation.

Students are provided with a rubric that will be used for assessment at the end of the project. The rubric has a section for the whole group and sections for each "career". Each country is assessed by a separate rubric. With this in mind, students now need to get together to decide how they are going to get the job done from here.

Middle / In Progress

Students work on this project at least three periods a week. As the project involves reading, writing, communication skills, career skills, technology skills, and some math, as well as the primary focus of social studies, it can be easily fit into different periods throughout the week. The teacher facilitates the students in finding appropriate sites on the internet where they gather information from various experts. They may contact government officials of the country, United Nations representatives from the country, different companies representing industries of importance. They also make contact with students in the countries who are studying their own country. Email communication is set up. Students interact and share experiences in both countries.

There are five computers in my classroom, one of which is connected to the internet. Each group has a day of the week that is their day for working on the computers. They have a part of the day that they are working on their computer work while the rest of the class is involved in other non-related work. Students learn to work without disturbing others in the class. We also have some access to a computer lab of twenty computers where about five computers are connected to the internet. Some students work on word processing previously gathered information, while others email and search the net for new information. Of course, in addition to, internet sources, students will use more traditional methods of information gathering including the text book itself, encyclopedias, the library, tourist agencies, etc.

Once a week there is a period for all groups to gather and discuss their progress. The fact that it is a group task with each individual responsible for a separate part of the job, leads to peer pressure for all to stay task oriented. Periodically there are meetings of students in each career area. At these meetings, students can share how they have gone about finding information in their particular area of expertise. This information can then be used by all the other people in that "occupation".

The teacher provides an outline for students to use as a guideline to make sure they are gathering the correct kinds of information. The teacher also oversees all meetings and checks to see that the project folders are being added to and refined as time goes on. Students will co-edit each other's presentations along with the teacher.

End / Culmination

After working on the project for a number of weeks, groups will give final presentations to the class as a whole. As each group has two countries to study, if one presentation is given each week, it could take up to ten weeks for presentations. Groups may wish to present the smaller country of the two in the first round of presentations while they continue to work on the larger, more complex country to be presented later. As each group finishes presenting their countries, they will work on putting this information up on the internet as part of the class web page. This rotation of presentations gives groups that need more time the chance to take more time to get ready. As the first groups finish, they can help to facilitate the last groups with their projects.

Presentations can be videotaped and shown during parent visitation day. After all groups have presented, an international party can be planned to share web pages, written projects, pictures of handicrafts, posters of areas of interest to tourists, and, of course, typical foods to other classes, staff, parents, and community members. Students can reflect on how they felt, not only about the countries they studied, but about their chosen occupations as well.

Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.



Author:  Marguerite M. Andre andre@paterson.k12.nj.us
Public School No. 15, Paterson, New Jersey 07501
Created: March 1, 1999 - Updated: April 25, 1999
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w99/projects/westhem/scenario.html