Surrounded by open books, assorted papers and their laptops, a section of Class 5 Humanities was in the midst of a multi-faceted, integrative research project that would illuminate an ancient civilization of their choosing. As a productive hum enveloped the sixth-floor classroom, Middle School Humanities Teacher Jenet Dibble checked in with each student, offering suggestions and encouragement.
“I care more about the process than the final product,” stressed Ms. Dibble, who is also Head of the MS Humanities Department.
At this point, the students had already selected the societies they wanted to investigate from an exhaustive list of possibilities, including Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire/Early Romans, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, Incas, Aztec Empire, The Maya, Ancient Anasazi/Pueblo, Ancient China, Ancient Japan, Ancient Ghana Empire, Asante/Ashanti Empire, Mali and Songhai and Benin Kingdom.
They had also narrowed down a specific topic to focus on and crafted two to three essential questions to help guide their inquiry. For example, for a project on ancient Greece, a student came up with these: “What were the most important structures/sites?” and “What is special about Greek architecture?” Her classmate, who was studying ancient Japan, generated several targeted questions: “What did the ancient Japanese wear? What food did they eat, and where did their food come from? What did their homes look like?
Class 5 are no strangers to far-reaching research endeavors, although this one on ancient civilizations is the most sophisticated they’ve tackled thus far. The students began to hone their skills at the beginning of the school year when they examined geography from a social studies perspective.
Next, they delved into projects about early humans, followed by ancient Mesopotamia, during which Middle School Associate Teacher Augie Sherman taught them how to build their own websites to house their findings. Then the students researched either ancient Egypt or the Indus River Valley.
Even more options were available for this current assignment. “Choice is an integral part of our curriculum,” noted Ms. Dibble.
On this May morning, the students were immersed in the next critical step in the process: identifying relevant source material. They learned that these sources could come from a variety of places such as databases, books, articles, videos and even a recent field trip the full grade took to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Exploring Art Across Cultures” exhibition – as long as each was properly attributed.
In addition to digital sources accessed on their computers, a number of students helped themselves to relevant physical treasures from an overflowing cart of library books at the back of the classroom.
“I like that we can use multiple sources for our research,” commented one student as she flipped through an illustrated hardcover for her study of ancient Inca architecture.
While everyone concentrated on their tasks, the mood was decidedly upbeat and collegial. People moved freely about, asking one another’s opinions, seeking out Ms. Dibble for advice and support, and seeming to thoroughly enjoy gathering information and expanding their thirst for knowledge.
“It’s challenging and fun,” added another student, clicking through a page on ancient Japan from the Britannica Education website. “I get to learn about a lot of new things.”
For age-appropriate internet searches, the students applied the Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority and Purpose technique, which Middle School Librarian Natasha Goldberg had introduced to them in previous Library classes. This process helped the researchers verify that a site was valid and credible.
They also took notes using the Cornell Method, a popular system for taking, organizing and summarizing notes, and practiced paraphrasing the content. To ensure equity for different learners, Middle School Learning Resources Teacher Shelby Ussery also modeled other ways to take notes, employing, for example, virtual index cards.
Before this eye-opening unit wraps up, the students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their aptitude and understanding through oral reports lasting between four and five minutes. Ms. Dibble reminded them that polished, well-rehearsed and visually appealing presentations would set them up for success.
Based on the confidence, curiosity, determination and resourcefulness on display in Room 602, this group of fifth graders will be more than ready to show off their hard work and bring their fascinating ancient civilizations to life.