Posts Tagged California History

They Make A Village

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

Dropping in on Will Schaer’s 4th grade class these days, you’ll find students hard at work on their latest California history project. Groups of four to five students are scattered throughout the room—some are working with clay and straw, others with paint and sand. Their collective task: construct a scale-model scene of an indigenous Chumash coastal village.

Will's students work on their scene

Will’s students work on their scene

By design, the Wildwood Life Skills are embedded in the work. Each group needs to reach consensus on their design, materials, and presentation. “It’s a very collaborative process,” Will tells me, “Each group gets a foam core base and an assignment to design and construct one of four scenes.” “When they’re all done,” Will adds, “we’ll put them together to form our own Chumash village.”

A survey of the works in progress shows a range of approaches. One group is building miniature ops, the typical round Chumash-style dwelling—using sticks, clay and straw. Another group is carefully creating a coastal scene, smearing blue and yellow clay on their foam core to represent the sea and sand, respectively.

Will's students show off their work

Will’s students show off their work

A group in the corner, tasked with illustrating a variety of Chumash children’s games, has a couple of ideas in the works. One intriguing example is explained by 4th grader Eli M.: “It’s called ‘kill the bunny,'” he shares. Turns out, the name is much more harrowing than the actual game. “It was the Chumash version of bowling,” he reveals. “They rolled a rock to knock down wooden ‘bunnies.'” His group mates show me their plans to depict other games—a Chumash version of kickball and ‘hoop and pole,’ a target game.

At a round table in another corner, a group of five students have filled their foam core base with pencil sketches, and they are considering various printed and illustrated handouts. Fourth grader, Ella K., talks her group through some ideas on how to build a key element of their scene—a ceremonial fire. “We can use the red clay for the flames,” she says, “and some pebbles to show the fire pit.” She shares with me some of the photos the group is using to guide their design, from a book the class read on the Chumash.

Will’s 4th graders will work a few more days before their scenes are assembled into the full Chumash village. Throughout the process, these students will continue to practice the Life Skills embedded in every successful collaboration with peers—flexibility, perseverance, and problem solving.  Expecting students to approach, analyze and innovate together is a way of making the content more meaningful and memorable. For Wildwood students, this collaborative way of working is introduced casually, learned and reinforced daily, and becomes a lifelong habit.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Discovering California History

Colleen McGee’s morning message to her 4th grade class set the stage for the day’s social studies lesson: “Good morning, Rancheros!”  Today, Colleen, along with associate teacher Carolyn Peralta, will lead their 4th graders through a persuasive writing exercise set in early 19th Century California- Mexican California, that is.  Their students will be writing letters to the Mexican Governor of Alta California, so that he may grant them a rancho, a tract of land on which to raise cattle, crops and a family.

Colleen McGee and her students generate ideas before writing

To get them started, McGee generates some guidelines along with her students for their written petitions.  Students agree that, in order to get their rancho, they need to explain to the Governor where their desired land is located, along with why they feel that they deserve the land. “And finally,” McGee tells her students, “don’t forget to flatter the Governor.” Fourth grader Jude M. raises her hand and asks, “Does that mean we should butter him up?”  “Exactly,” says McGee.

Mission mosaic

For 4th graders across the state, studying California history is a right of passage.  Likewise, Wildwood 4th graders investigate state history from the arrival of the first aboriginal settlers, through the Spanish conquest and mission period, up to the Gold Rush and Chinese immigration. At Wildwood, however, the study of California history is lively, insightful, and inter-disciplinary.  For example, Colleen’s students enhance their artistic skills by designing and constructing mosaics to portray the various Spanish missions.

Christian B. and Chloe S. craft their petitions

What’s more, all Wildwood students hone their writing skills while studying state history.  “Most of our social studies curriculum is writing-based,” says McGee.  In addition to persuasive writing, Wildwood 4th graders infuse their California history studies with short story writing, poetry, and journalism.  All of this culminates in the “Voices of the West” project, where students create a portfolio of their best work set against the backdrop of California’s past. 

Jude M. contemplates her rancho

As McGee’s students settle into their writing, I check on their progress. Some of the students tell me the names of their ranchos. “Mine’s called Rancho Garcia Dominguez,” says Ryan B. “I’ve called mine Rancho Santa Margarita,” says Christian B., “because I know that there actually was one.”

The other students also work intently, crafting their arguments and imagining their lives in old California, all the while, perfecting their writing skills. If I were governor, I’d be greatly impressed and persuaded. And I’m sure that I’d grant them all their ranchos.

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