Friday, February 17, 2012

Developing the Family History/Immigration Museum Project

Yesterday afternoon we celebrated the culmination of our grade-level signature project, The Immigration/Family History Museum Project, with an open house. Our fourth grade wing was turned into a Museum with exhibits depicting stories, facts, artifacts, images and other information representing the history of each and every fourth grader. Similar to last year, the single most important aspect of this project is that children present their projects with pride as the project serves to develop self knowledge, confidence, and understanding of individual and collective cultural heritage.

As I analyze this year's project, I noticed these integral factors:

Our entire team, classroom teachers, student teachers and several specialists, collaborated in the planning and implementation of this project.  During our weekly grade-level lunch meetings we debated, researched, created and planned the unit for best effect.  Our joint efforts fostered a sense of team and camaraderie for all fourth grade students and teachers thus making the project a shared celebration for fourth grade students and their families.

Next year, we may want to make a point to invite specialist teachers to our regular planning meetings so that we profit from their view point as well.

Project Format and Sharing
We spent a lot of time this year discussing the project format.  Last year, student projects represented a large range of formats, and while this was interesting, it made it difficult for students to share their projects with each other.  This year we decided to use a similar project format which gave students a common construct (trifold poster) and language for project design and sharing. A wonderful student teacher created an exemplar and shared it with each class.  The exemplar served as a common model that students in all classes referred to as they worked on their projects.  When it came time to share, students were assigned three-four student projects in each class to survey, study and discuss.  Better than last year, the use of a sharing sheet, compliment sticky notes, assignment of projects to review, and an organized student share the day before the family open house led to greater learning, voice and project pride.

Essential Questions
We also added essential questions to the project this year.  The essential questions served to guide our work.  Next year, I want to tweak our essential questions to make sure they match our New Framework for Evaluation and Supervision well.  I also want to spend a couple of weeks before we embark on the individual project research to discuss, study and learn about the essential question topics in a targeted way. This year I did provide background study, but we created the essential questions after the study was complete.

Although I sent home numerous updates about the project, there were a number of parents who were not sufficiently informed or aware of the project parameters.  Next year I want to make a point of discussing this project during the school year's initial curriculum meeting and parent newsletter as that's the time of year when parents really think deeply about and plan with respect to the curriculum program.  I also think our team should plan a date for next year's event prior to the start of the next school year as our parent population is very busy, and lead time for important family events is essential. Further, a colleague thought to invite administrators and other educators in the building.  Their attendance at the event was wonderful as they each made time to celebrate and discuss individual student's work. Finally, several grandparents and other relatives attended the event.  An early announcement of the date and format gives families the chance to include relatives outside of the child's immediate circle if desired.  It was particularly great to have grandparents there as they had a lot to offer with regard to family stories and American history.

Classroom Presentation
Last year the presentation was simply an open house. This time we added a brief student "headline" presentation.  Next year, I'd like to grow that presentation a bit more so that students have more time to practice their presentation and their presentations are a bit longer.  I want to do this because I noticed that students' presentations were a good way to introduce the parents to each child and to the aspects of the child's culture and presentation that they most wanted people to notice.

At first this project was an add-on to our regular curriculum program, but now I believe it has transitioned to a signature project status. Signature projects are the projects that grade levels are remembered for, and the projects that students look forward to year after year.  These projects build excitement and community.  Now that the project is taking on this importance, it's essential that we think deeply about the timing with regard to the overall curriculum program and integration of essential skills.  It may also be the point where we ask for a curriculum planning day to develop the unit further with the leadership of our ELA/social studies director and learning design specialists.

This morning I'll give students a chance to reflect and comment on the project.  I will take their reflections into account as well as I plan next year's project.

Keepers and Future Thoughts
The following aspects of the project are keepers:
  • Tri-fold posters: we ordered those last spring.
  • Lots of colored paper, glue and other creative materials.
  • Library immigration/family history book collection, our librarian has created a wonderful multicultural collection that she readily organizes and sends to our classrooms on carts to support our study.
  • The project outline and links. We used a Google doc to share the project outline and links.  This was a wonderful resource for students, and a resource I think we should continue to develop. We might want to create a Google website to support this unit.
  • A complimentary interactive read aloud: Some students read Letters to Rifka as a shared book during the unit which developed collective knowledge, understanding and discussion related to immigration.  It might be good to develop our collection of interactive read alouds related to immigration.
  • Classroom libraries: We have the You Choose immigration books and many others related to immigration and cultural history.  We may want to continue to develop this collection.
  • Discovery Education films and other culture videos.  We may also want to look closely at the videos we use to support this unit, and update our collection.
  • Classroom displays: I noticed that one teacher had many visuals on display that supported the unit, we may all want to order a number of visuals that respond to the unit's essential questions.
  • Foods: Families brought foods that represented their cultures to share.  They also shared the ingredients and recipes.  This is always a favorite aspect of the project.  One that introduces students to many new foods.
  • Grade-wide "doll" bulletin board: Students decorated little paper dolls with an image of their face then a hand-crafted costume, flag and passport.  This makes a beautiful Museum centerpiece display.
This project is a wonderful aspect of our grade level program. It is a teaching focus that builds self esteem, promotes project base learning, integrates technology, employs cultural relevancy, develops cultural awareness and understanding, and develops essential skills, concepts and knowledge.  

At our next grade level meeting and in the week's to come, we'll continue to reflect upon and discuss the project's merits and plans for next year.  In the meantime, I hope we'll create a website and continue to collect links and other materials to support the unit.  If you have any ideas, please let us know, and if you plan to embark on this unit, I'm open to your questions and ready to support your work.

Related Post:
Culture Celebration 2013