One of the guiding principles of our unique teaching model is the integration of subjects across the curriculum. Educators know that children learn best when approaching a subject the same way grown ups do: with all lenses wide open. You cannot learn about a pond, for instance, without first considering the biology, math, literature, and even art behind it. Young children are naturally integrated learners as they are full of questions and wonder about everything having to do with a subject. Compartmentalization of disciplines will dampen the wonder rather than open doors to it.
For their integrated studies this fall, students in third and fourth grade have chosen six countries that they have found interesting and broke up into groups to study them through language, art, history, anthropology and geography. The six countries of interest are: Greece, Morocco, Peru, China, New Zealand and Canada. Just after Thanksgiving break Jesse, who is one of our third and fourth grade teachers, began an integrated unit with his students that involved a mythical creature, storytelling, graphing, foreign language and geography. Jesse then crafted a story that would lead students to create a drawing of a mythical creature using several points on a graph. Take a look below to read Jesse’s story:
The International Tale of the Turkey Unicorn
As I lay sprawled out on the couch, groggy and half asleep, completely stuffed from a massive Thanksgiving meal, a magical and friendly-looking creature appeared by my side. She was frantic and out of breath, clearly trying to tell me an important story. I rubbed my eyes to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. This creature looked so familiar but also unlike anything I’d seen before, and I had a hard time believing my eyes. She said her name was Roxy.
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She told me that her journey began after finishing Canadian Thanksgiving October 8. Her traditional Monday Thanksgiving meal ended with a scrumptiously spicy pumpkin pie. She was supposed to take the simple flight from Toronto to Portland to give her time to prepare for the US Thanksgiving in November. But she knew there must have been something wrong when her flight lasted 22 hours! She expected to get off in some exotic, foreign land but it wasn’t that way at all. Everyone spoke English and dressed about the same as where she’d just been and where she was supposed to land in Portland.
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But, after a minute she realized that the English everyone was speaking was quite different. And, upon leaving the airport, it said ‘Welcome to our Capital, Wellington!’ It also looked to be the start of summertime, and everyone was playing this odd looking sport that seemed similar to American football, but they called rugby. It was almost like she travelled to the other side of the earth, she was so confused. Where could she be!? Roxy needed to speak to someone to get some answers, and fast!, so she flagged down the nearest friendly face on a bicycle. Afterall, bicyclists, almost always know the answer to everything! This little guy looked a lot like one of her cousins so she felt like she trusted him already. He called himself Kyle the Kiwi and he was quick with jokes. His first question to her was, ‘How many Kiwi’s does it take to screw in a lightbulb? .. None, fruits can’t screw in lightbulbs, silly!’ But, when it came to Thanksgiving, Kyle wasn’t very helpful. He said he may have heard someone mention something about Thanksgiving once but he didn’t really know what it was.
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Roxy needed to get back for Thanksgiving in Portland so she said Kia Ora (Key-Or-A) to Kyle and caught the next flight to one of the closest major cities, which still wasn’t that close: Beijing. Now this was a different world! There were sooo many people! And bikes! The food, sights, smells, and sounds all seemed different. But, she was very hungry so she decided to try the local favorite Zhajiang Noodles (with soybean paste); not quite the Thanksgiving meal she’d been daydreaming about but it would have to do. She was also joined at the quiet restaurant by a duck, Peking Duck, he called himself. And, in some ways, this made her feel closer to family.
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Peking duck happened to be a travel agent who spoke English and he told her he’d put her on a flight to the nation that founded western ideals and values, and maybe they could help with her Thanksgiving search. Roxy decided that here she’d have to go off into the rural countryside and look for the real meaning of this very American holiday. So she wizzed by the columns and the historic Parthenon in the heart Athens and went out into the rocky hillsides. But instead of squash and potatoes, she found figs and olives. She did, however, find a wise owl named Aristotle. He told her that the people here cared more about the European soccer season than understanding the origins of our Thanksgiving. This might be where many influences on America originated but to find more on Thanksgiving, she’d have to take a long flight across the sea, he said.
Stuck in the countryside, not an airport in sight, our holiday heroin realized that she could fly a little, just not that far. Why not just take a tour of the Mediterranean Sea, from one corner to another!? Well, after flying from the Northeast corner of the Mediterranean all the way west past the mouth of the sea, veering south, tired and exhausted she landed in a beautiful seaside city known as Casablanca, or Casa to the locals. Where was this place? There was a bustling financial market right next to a fish market, full of swordfish and sardines. This was not at like the movie! And it’s definitely not like Thanksgiving. People are speaking French and Arabic, and even some Spanish! Hmmm maybe a Spanish speaking flight will get me closer to where I need to be, she thought. In fact, the local (Barbary) lions agreed with her and said she must cross a much bigger see than the Mediterranean; more like an ocean, the Atlantic ocean to be exact! So she hopped the next flight to the Americas!
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Touching down in Lima, she immediately found potatoes and maize at the local market, and thought, I must be getting closer. She used her passable Spanish to learn that there are some indigenous or native people in this land. (Debo estar acercándome a los verdaderos orígenes de Thanksgiving (Acción de Gracias)! I must be getting closer to the true origins of Thanksgiving! She exclaimed! She traveled deep into historic Inca lands, a place known as the Sacred Valley. There she met a bird named Tunki. He showed her colorful textiles and stone structures but her Spanish didn’t quite come in handy, as most locals, like Tunki, spoke another one of the national languages, Quechua. She recognized a few of the similar words, like llama and quinoa. But, with the best Spanish they could muster, Tunki with a bit of Quechua mixed in, and Roxy sounding very American, she was able to learn that many of the indigenous people have traditions where they honor the earth and celebrate the harvest. This sounded a little bit closer to the Thanksgiving.. But when do they celebrate these festivals where people give thanks for the harvest? Tunki told Roxy she was there the wrong time of year and that no one near the Andes or the Amazon knows anything about Thanksgiving.
Roxy felt exhausted and exasperated. She felt close to Tunki at this point so she shared with him that she was sad she might never get back to learn the true meaning Thanksgiving. She was sad she’d miss the falling leaves, the pumpkins, and the beginning of the snowy season. Wait, Tunki exclaimed! If you’re looking for falling leaves, you won’t find them here! We’re on the equator where there is much less seasonal change. (Although, we do have some pretty awesome gourds to carve and decorate!) After getting a bit off topic with the gourds, Tunki shared to Roxy that she might want head north to find her pumpkins and changing leaves.
So Roxy packed her things yet again and headed to the airport in Lima and booked a flight for the US. And, guess who she just happened to be sitting next to on this flight? The one and only Krys Carriere, who was on her way back from a backpacking trip to Machu Pichu! Krys invited Roxy to her family Thanksgiving in Sebago, where she was joined by Krys’ Canadian family, and a Canadian Grizzly Bear.
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Roxy did finally make it to Portland, to share this story with Jesse and ‘force’ him to have a second massive Thanksgiving meal. And during that meal she shared with him what she learned: that the true importance of Thanksgiving was being with good friends and family.
Thank you, Jesse for leading us on such a delightful journey around the globe!