Oh, fifth graders, how I love you!


The best part of teaching fifth grade is the fact that I am continually surprised when the kids act like fifth graders.

I always think, in my silly adult way, that if I simply explain things better, they will grasp them in a more mature way.

Clearly, I don’t learn as well as my students do!

Our fifth graders study the Colonial American period, and then go on to learn about the American Revolution. As part of this unit of study, they are assigned to work with a partner, researching one of the original thirteen colonies. I’ve been having children do this project for eight straight years.  We used to have them look in actual books and put their information on that old fashioned material known as “poster board”.  Back in those early days, the children used to include information like “there are lots of bees in Georgia!” and “New Hampshire colony had lots of places to hike”. They didn’t seem to understand that we were asking a few (very few) key questions about the colonies.  Questions like, “Where did the original settlers come from?” and “What did they produce and trade in the colony?”

As the years have gone by, I have gradually refined my structure around the colony research project. I have been more direct and more explicit about the information required.  I have been very, very clear about what NOT to include (cartoons, silly jokes, Taylor Swift references, etc).  We gradually moved the projects into PowerPoint Presentations, and worked very hard to teach the children, even more explicitly, about how to write like historians. We taught about “primary sources” one year.

That was the year that one of the kids put in the image of an original 1932 postcard from South Carolina.

So we began to be even more direct and explicit. We showed the kids actual examples of what NOT to include in a history presentation (like said postcard).

That year we got one slide that was devoted entirely to the Virginia pig war (?) complete with adorable cartoon pig.

We gave them a rubric. We showed them other presentations, made by students and made by actual historians. This year I decided to give away the conclusions that we want them to draw.  I compared the three colonial regions on the smartboard. I talked about trade, and we acted out the “Triangle of Trade” by marching around the classroom and handing each other cards marked “iron”, “rum” and “slaves”. We looked at maps of the thirteen colonies and compared them to climate maps.  We used Google Earth, for God’s sake, in the fervent hope that after all this careful leading by the nose, the kids would actually create simple slideshows with key information about each Colony.

We have moved to Google Drive now, and the presentations are made with Google Slides, and are shared with me so that I can check on progress.

Even when I’m home sick.

Like a was today.

I reviewed the Google Slides Presentations which are due in two days (after three weeks of carefully guided study).

Holy Fifth Grade Sensibilities.

Even though we did an entire half hour lesson on “scholarly language”, one slide included an indecipherable map of Colonial Delaware, complete with the caption, “Trust me, Delaware’s in there somewhere!”

In spite of an entire two lessons about the concept of economy and trade, one presentation included a slide labelled, “Government of South Carolina” and pictures of sugar (in a modern paper package), rice (in a Carolina Rice bag) and “indigo” ( a picture of a purple iris).

One group included little side notes like, “Oh, yeah!” and “You know it!” in their slideshow.  One group included a photo of white farm laborers from around 1900 in a slide labelled, “how the slaves dressed”.

I should probably be horrified, and I should probably make everyone go back and make it better, especially since there is a “rubric”. But I’m not going to.

I’m going to laugh in private, and guide them when they present their work in public. I’m going to make them feel like historians and hope that they learn just how exciting it can be to learn from the past.

Most of all, I’m going to let them keep on thinking like fifth graders.

At least for a little while longer.

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One response to this post.

  1. Fifth graders? Holy Moley — why are they so immature? They must be about a zillion years old! And they’re STILL in school?

    I sure hope I get home schooling when I grow up…

    Reply

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