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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Now For Some Good News — And Your Ideas

I have been having the great thrill of working with Teri Ruyter and her staff at P.S./I.S. 276 in Manhattan. This is a beautiful new public school on the lower tip of Manhattan facing the Museum of American Jewish history, Battery Park, and the harbor — an ideal location for teaching about America, American history, immigration, trade, world connections, world conflicts (the World Trade Center site is also very close) — just about everything that makes up our past, present, and future. Marina and I had worked with Teri while we were writing Sugar, and we stayed in touch. Now, as principal, she invited me to meet with her staff as they plan a new 6th grade world history and 7th grade US history curriculum. We’ve made a great start, but I would love to hear from all of you.

The challenge, as you all surely know, is that however innovative and creative we want to be, we still have the city and state standards to meet, the limits of time and attention, and the question of what resources to use. What is the ideal Venn Diagram meeting place between what we can cook up as neat ideas and the pragmatic realities of what the school needs to deliver, the teachers can teach, and the students can master?

For 6th grade we divided the year into six units. 1) Place — case study River Civilizations; art focus is Gilgamesh; individual projects on Sumer or Egypt; 2) Metal Materials — case study Bronze Age Greece; art Illiad; break out: Roman Empire; 3) Fabric and Trade — case study: Silk Road from China through spread of Islam; art music (using Yo Yo Ma materials from the Asia Societey); break out study — Mongols; tranmsition, mini unit — isolated Europe; 4 conflict — case study individual generals — Alexander, Caesar; Genghis Khan, Crusades; art — weapons; 5 — Exchange of culture and ideas; case study Renaissance; art: Leonardo; 6 — final project each student is to identify and argue for a key turning point in the history we have covered — up to the student to identify what s/he considers a turning point — ideas, technology, leaders, life style, wars, faith, disease — and make claim for it.

So, friends, how does this look to you? And we are very eager for resource suggestions — books, novels, graphic novels, sites, films, any materials that would connect with 6th graders and help them think, create, and learn.

Monday I will outline the 7th grade plan and again solicit your advise.