Northside Elementary Students Learn from Colonial Activities
Leading up to the Thanksgiving break, Northside Elementary students in Michelle Gay's fifth grade class participated in a Socratic Seminar, digging into a primary source document from the 1600's. Students engaged in this text analysis to prepare them for the broader hands-on experiences with colonial life for their immersive social studies unit. And then the messy, creative fun began.
The students continued building their knowledge by using their hands to churn butter, make bread and grind corn into meal with rocks. The most labor and time intensive colonial project involved a collaboration with CHCCS Sustainability Program Manager, Dan Schnitzer, to construct benches out of wood. “Michelle’s vision for making this unit experiential is a model for engaging students,” said Schnitzer. “As students learned to hold the drill, use it safely and build something that they will actually use, they were embodying the spirit of risk-taking, self-sufficiency and productivity, which are some of the characteristics that Michelle hoped her students would understand about the colonists.”
“My students greatly enjoyed the different aspects of this project, especially when they had the chance to use their hands to gain understanding,” said Gay. “My students were able to use primary source documents as well as current news articles to identify clear problems and how they have changed over time in our nation’s history.”
Gay noted that when her students took a learning inventory earlier in the school year, nearly 80 percent of them emerged as tactile learners. As they studied and discussed the hardships and constraints of colonial life, they learned about topics like water access and food production with readings, and then they embraced that knowledge with their hands. “The idea was to get them to recognize that these people had to create their own colonies, to build everything from scratch,” said Gay. “We wanted them to understand that the colonists didn’t have any of these things when they arrived.”
Schnitzer helped each class of fifth graders construct the benches from wood that he brought to the classroom, and by the day before Thanksgiving break, the students were learning how to sand. “They even had a kind of sandpaper during colonial times,” Gay told her students, as they gathered to take turns on the bench.
After the students paint their benches in coming days, they have chosen a permanent use for the finished products. One student raised the idea of bullying prevention as a goal, and she noted that it would be great for Northside to have Buddy Benches around the school. The other students agreed, and soon the fully sanded, “colonial-inspired” benches will be shared with the full community.