Monday, March 6, 2017

Bringing the World to my Classroom

One of my goals of traveling the past few summers was to find a way to instill an interest in foreign culture within my young students.  Even though they are only 7 and 8 years old, it's quite remarkable how interested they are in foreign cultures.  The allure of life outside their comfort zone proves to be both mysterious and exciting.  Last year, I found it difficult to incorporate cultural education into my daily teaching schedule.  Everything changed this year, though, when I decided to align every one of our math chapters to a different country.  The result has allowed me to introduce cultures from around the world all while making math more exciting!

At the start of each chapter, my students beg like hungry dogs waiting to hear the location of the next country they will be learning about.  I am usually forced to give a clue or two before the countries are revealed as their anticipation is too great.  "It begins with M" or "It ends with A" have them scouring their minds for geographical locations that match the clues.

After the country reveal, I spend just a few minutes at the start of every math class throughout the chapter giving interesting facts and facilitating a discussion around the country.  The curiosity of my students has made this one of my favorite parts of the day!

These cultural facts have sparked remarkable conversations with my young students.  They have discussed everything from Nelson Mandela fighting apartheid in South Africa to the impact of the atom bomb on the people of Hiroshima.  These heavy topics are put into context through our study of the country and allow for an appreciation for events that have helped to shape our globalized world.  I have used picture books like the ones below to help introduce some of these topics.


Through our discussions, I have been amazed at the knowledge the students have gained about geography.  They have learned the continents, the definition of a country, and even general location of the places on a map.  This is quite remarkable to me considering the third and fourth graders I taught in the past were limited beyond the identification of the United States on a map.

In a globalized world, I feel it is my duty as an educator to prepare my young students for the challenges that come with such a market.  An appreciation and understanding of different cultures is critical in many professions in 2017.  One can only imagine their importance by the time this group of students graduates in 2027.

Finally, to add an element of culmination, the students receive a 'passport sticker' at the end of each chapter.  These passport stickers are placed on the front of their binders as a reminder of not only the math chapters they have passed, but also the countries they have studied.  The students are always just as excited about gaining a sticker for their passport as they are about seeing their test scores.  There is a sense of pride and accomplishment anytime a sticker is given.

Overall this experiment in bringing a cultural appreciation to my seven and eight year old students has been an overwhelming success.  I would encourage anyone hoping to broaden their students' minds to find a way to squeeze world cultural education somewhere into your busy days.  The benefits are more than worth the few minutes it will take from your day.  Stay tuned for more posts on this project in the making in the future!

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