My last post received quite a few comments and questions. First, let me thank each and every person that gave me wonderful positive feedback and even Natalie Wexler the author of “The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System and How to Fix It” chimed in. I was flattered. I have always believed that knowledge is the key to teaching and our job as educators is to expose our students to as much knowledge as possible during the course of a school year. Our job should not continuously focus on teaching to a test or drill and kill lessons. Yes, there are skills we should and required to teach our students, but teaching in isolation as Wexler points out in her book is empty calories. I will not rewrite my last post because I could speak about this topic as they say, all day. The purpose of this post is to answer some questions I had about building a content rich curricula. I am very fortunate to work in a school with a trusting administrator that allows teacher creativity in planning of lessons. This post focuses on the unit we completed about astronauts and the July 20, 1969 landing on the moon.
Our unit began with the book The Darkest Dark by Chris Hatfield. Prior to reading our book I made an anchor chart titled astronauts and had the students write anything they knew about astronauts. I generally begin each lesson with an anchor chart and activate prior knowledge to guide the direction of my lessons. I had students that knew quite a bit and seven to eight students who knew very little. The main standard to begin our unit was author’s purpose (RL.1.5) and this particular lesson can be found in Rooted in Reading by Amy Lemons and Katie King. If you need a jumping off point to start your lessons Rooted in Reading is a wonderful resource. This was not the only standard covered as there are so many different ways to plug reading standards into books. The Darkest Dark is a autobiography and details Chris Hatfield’s journey from childhood to becoming an astronaut. The main focus is his childhood fears and dreams. Also, in each Rooted in Reading is a non-fiction reader packed with information. We used the reader Out of This World to research astronaut facts and the students made their on fact focus board that would be used later in our astronaut writing. I used the reader to focus in on main idea and key details. As we were reading we would stop to discuss how the key details bring us back to the main idea. So, the students are learning an important skill that is always on a standardized test but within the context of rich information. No empty calories! I have included pictures below.
Our unit continued with learning about Neil Armstrong by reading I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer. I want to take a moment to say when I decide on a unit I google as many books as possible on the subject and decide which way to take the unit according to standards and prior student knowledge. I do try to teach my reading through science and social studies. Neil Armstrong led us to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The students learned about the sea of tranquility, atmosphere, orbit, Micheal Collins, lunar module, and much more. We learned moon facts and how many times an astronaut sees the sun rise and set from space (this fact was very fascinating to the children). We learned the 4 stages of the flight and the scary moment of possibly running out of gas. Side note, my students felt it was a bit unfair Michael Collins had to stay behind and did not get to walk on the moon. I tried to state his importance, but in the mind of a 6 year old it just wasn’t fair. We learned about President John F. Kennedy and his part in the space race. We located Kennedy Space Center and the Atlantic Ocean. I only scratched the surface for times sake.
I would like to now to take a moment to list all the text to text connections that were made during our unit. We read Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty because Neil Armstrong was an engineer before becoming an astronaut. We also read Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty to highlight how architects are already designing homes that may possibly be used if humans can live on Mars. I would say one of our favorites was Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. This book is a must for every classroom. We were able to dive into discrimination, kick off our black history month, and how the knowledge of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden helped the United States win the space race. I could write an entire post on Hidden Figures! I also brought in some fun books. We read The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot and The King of Space.
It is time consuming putting content rich units together and requires hours of research and google becomes your best friend, but the rewards are far greater than the time required. I will state again, every educator should read Natalie Wexler’s book The Knowledge Gap. Also, find teachers to follow that provide content rich material not just “cute” fonts and crafts. Teachers like this can help give you a spring board to build upon. A few I follow are Amy Lemons, Katie King, Naomi O’Brien (read like a rockstar), Vera Ahiyya (the tutu teacher), and Jen Jones (hello literacy). Lastly, trust yourself as you have been trained to teach.
Enjoy the pictures….Dandelion Dreams