Help me set up a new classroom.
July 21, 2005 11:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me set up a new classroom.

I'm starting a new 5th grade classroom in the fall. This is the first time the school will have a 5th grade. It's an urban environment. The students will be English Language Learners from varied places like Mexico, Vietnam, Senagal, etc.

The idea I have for the classroom environment is anthroplogical. I would like to have specimens and artifacts from around the world that represent different cultures. Is this appropriate for the 5th grade? If it is, do you have any ideas about how to represent different cultures statically in a classroom environmet? Remember, I'm thinking classroom environment, ie. pictures, displays, etc.
posted by snsranch to Education (7 answers total)
Sounds good to me. Thinking of ancient or low-tech traditional artifacts for a moment, particularly of interest to me when I was that age was things I could conceivably look at to learn how to make myself. Ie a wood carving is better than a stone carving, but both would be of little interest next to something like a bow or arrows (I know hunting tools will be classed as weapons and off limits, just explaining the thought process). Seeing a small bit of stone (arrowhead) attached to to a shaft by splitting the shaft, putting in the stone, wrapping in string, and sealing with glue, was quite inspiring, partly because it was all stuff I could try myself. Perhaps a fire-making bow instead.

Another display idea would be pictures or displays assembling all the different ways that different cultures have done exactly the same thing - particularly the kinds of things that it never occurs to you there are other ways. Eg a shadow-box on the wall with a toothbrush, and a range of other things that people used to clean their teeth. (The only alternative I can think of is a chewing stick, but I know there are lots of others, though you'd have to look back in time a bit, as toothbrushes seem to have swept the globe). Eating utensils or writing/mark-making instruments might be other possibilities, or maybe the various objects that denote leadership - various crowns, headdresses, poles, sceptres, cloaks, decorations, etc.

Jewellery? Body adornment is another thing that is universal across cultures yet varies hugely.

Something of interest in this homogonized globalised world might simply be things like where foodstuffs originally came from (though again, this is going back in time instead of concentrating on modern life). I know which part of the world many of the basic staple crops originated, but beyond that, most of the fruits and veggies that I know of, I have no clue where they came from - they've been transplanted and grown all around the world since long before I was born.

As a display however, I suspect that one isn't likely to be of much interest to 5th graders though. Unless perhaps it was phrased as "what part of the world brought you the food you hate the most" which is, er, somewhat devisive instead of unitive :)

Boardgames of the world should be an ever-popular hands-on display. There is so much good stuff out there it's not funny. Or so I'm told :)
Most traditional board games don't have text or writing on them, so they work in any language.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:52 PM on July 21, 2005

I should probably add "cheap plastic boardgames of the world" would hold no interest to my inner child, and reflect little of the game's origin. The materials and form of the game pieces are as important to it being interesting as the game concept itself. Especially if it was the kind of quality that anywhere else we would expect to be being told "Don't touch that". Forbidden fruit is where it's at :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:04 AM on July 22, 2005

If you are short on money, you can try covering the walls with posters showing either traditional art from various cultures or famous cities, people, buildings, modes of dress, historical events, etc. Its not as impressive as artifacts that you can hold in your hand, but it may complement traditional artifacts.

Also, I highly reccommend covering one (or more) wall(s) with whiteboards. The technique linked is very inexpensive (about $8-12 for a 4 by 8 foot sheet). The material suggested sometimes goes by the brand name AquaTile and is available at some Lowes stores in addition to Home Depot.
posted by Common Sense at 12:30 AM on July 22, 2005

I'd think that this is a great framework and a great opportunity to use the kids to make the displays for you. Dedicate a wall to "Our World" and bootstrap it by putting up one. Break it into 4 sections and divide it up into Trade, Tradition, Geography, News. Then after you introduce it and discuss about each section and what it means, then you can start picking other country and assigning them out, along with appropriate resources for finding the information. If you want to be ultra sneaky, never assign a student to a country/culture of which they are a member so you can have them as in-class resources for the group that is doing their culture. One every 4 weeks should do. On the day of unveiling, have another discussion with the class so it's participatory.

Encourage hand-created artwork. For example, you could have two life-size paper dolls that they dress up in traditional outfits. If you don't, prepare yourself for a lot of pictures taken from the first result from Google Images. You want them to synthesize what they find into something original. By the way, to make the dolls, just trace a pair of students on roll paper.

And don't forget food. One of the greatest ways to learn a culture is to experience their food with a healthy dose of why with the what.

Again, and I can't stress this enough, your students can be your hands. Make one as an exemplar and set them to work.
posted by plinth at 3:59 AM on July 22, 2005

Yeah, I would try to get the students involved in this instead of doing all the legwork yourself. And then you shouldn't have to worry as much as to whether it's culturally authentic and so forth.

Also...if you're teaching ELLs, I would recommend lots of pictures AND words. Words words words. Get those words on the wall and change them frequently. Make a wall dictionary full of words that you learn throughout the year. I'm sure you could incorporate this with your anthropological theme as well.

Don't worry too much about having your classroom completely decorated by the first day of school. Have the kids add to it throughout the year.

It seems semi-appropriate to note this here...the live preview totally looks like a blackboard.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2005

These are just the best ideas. I can't thank you enough.
posted by snsranch at 4:31 PM on July 22, 2005

I teach fifth grade (actually, a combined fifth-sixth grade) in urban Boston. My classroom is very racially and ethnically diverse, with lots of bilingual kids (but few truly ELL kids). One of the ways we begin the year is to have "stations" with different themes. Since we have a particular curricular focus (US history and African history in alternating years), the stations are designed around those. In the US Year, for example, the beginning-of-the-year stations are designed around different Native American tribes, connected to ecological zones. So in one station we have posters and pieces of artwork and maps and books related, say, to an Arctic climate and the Inuit. Next to that, a station focused on plains ecology and the Lakota. And so on.

We divide the class among the various stations. Kids' tasks in the first few social studies blocks of the year are to work with a group at their station and to try to figure out what they can about that ecological zone and the people who lived within it. They have some general guiding questions, like "What have you learned about the Inuit?", "What is the climate like where this group of people live - hot or cold? many trees or few trees?", and "How do the kinds of houses this group of people built match the climate they live in?" There are also some vocabulary words that we highlight, such as "climate", "architecture", "ecology" and so on.

Toward the end of the first week, we have a set of presentations - kids have made posters, and then present their findings to the rest of the class. As well as a way of guaging the levels and styles of the kids in my classroom, I also use it as a way of setting standards - I point out particular good things that they've done in their posters or presentations and say "That's exactly the kind of thing I'd like you to be able to do."

As the kids do their presentations, much of the stuff I put out on the first day disappears, replaced with the kids' own work on the walls - so that the classroom takes on a more kid-centered than teacher-centered appearance, but still focused on the curriculum.

Anyway, I thought of this project that we do at my school, when you mentioned your idea about using an anthropological approach at the beginning of the year. If you came up with a list of some cultures you wanted to represent, and then gathered not just art and food but also maps and text, and put distinct cultures in different locations around the classroom, you could use those cultural "stations" not just as a way of making the classroom have a broader cultural reach, but also as a quick first-week-of-school project. I have no idea how much curriculum flexibility you have, but if you can experiment, this sort of station-based project has been a good beginning-of-the-year activity for me.

As I think about it, it is a language intensive project, which would probably need to be modified for a class with a lot of ELL kids - if you have a high percentage of kids who have little or no English, for example, a presentation would probably be not the best way to go, but the poster could still work. I second jetskiaccident's recommendation about lots of pictures and lots of words in an ELL classroom, and plinth's idea about not assigning kids from a certain culture to learn about their own, culture, making them a resource for their classmates who are supposed to learn about that culture.
posted by Chanther at 1:02 PM on July 24, 2005

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