While there are some conflicting opinions about the use of themes in teaching, I have found that they are extremely powerful tools we can use to help our students connect their world to curriculum subjects.
I began my school year with the theme of Identity, so my Grade 4 students could know more about who they are as individuals. We examined factors like religion, gender, family, and media and how they play a role in shaping our identities. I was particularly excited to zero in on gender, in an attempt to work on one of the UN Millennium goals:
Goal #3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/)
This led us to discuss stereotypes that can exist for males and females and through drama, visual arts and writing, my students reflected on their experiences and how stereotypes can lead to exclusion. We read personal stories and viewed clips from the site, “Because I Am A Girl” (http://becauseiamagirl.ca/) and they mapped places in the world where these stories came from and looked for patterns. At the end, students wrote about themselves and their learning in a blown-up version of their individual fingerprints.
Over the course of working within this theme, I began to see the challenges my students had with the concept of Choice and realized I had found my next theme to explore with them.
Goal #1 – End Poverty and Hunger
Goal #2 – Achieve Universal Education
My students made puppet shows on iPads to illustrate a time when they had to make a difficult choice and we studied persuasive writing and how their voices can have an impact on the choices others make. Closer to the holiday season, we planned a fundraiser and I shared Unicef’s website and the survival gifts program (www.unicef.ca/). They convinced me that we should raise money to send a child to school because that would decrease the chances of this child living in poverty. So, we sold popcorn throughout our school, in the hopes of raising $75 to send a child to school. My students designed posters, they went to each class in the school and shared our idea, they counted and tracked the money that came in with the orders and to our surprise, we raised $300 and were able to send 4 children to school. Their one condition before I made the donation: can you please make sure that it is 2 boys and 2 girls?
Over the holidays, I contemplated how relatively quiet my mind was because I wasn’t hearing the daily concerns: he’s not sharing the soccer ball, I can’t find a teacher to help me outside, no one will play with me. In order to help my students with some of these issues, I needed to move to Power and its role in relationships and specifically on the playground. My students took post-its notes outside to record when they heard power being used and we studied about power in science through light and sound. They wrote articles for a class newspaper that outlined powerful people in our school and my personal favourite, we discussed imbalance in power, which led to yoga during our gym periods.
As I move into my last theme of the year, Agents of Change, Mission Impossible music plays in the background while my students are designing badges and creating surveys which will provide them with the data they need to make changes within our school.
Goal #7 – Ensure Environmental Sustainability
When my colleagues ask me how I find time to teach the curriculum, I say: The themes are my curriculum, they are what drive me to make connections for my students.