As global structures and systems evolve due to changes in cultural and social ideologies, politics, the environment and technological growth, teaching and learning about the world also needs to be dynamic and relevant for students. At Meridian, we want our students to gain an understanding of how global social and natural systems interact and progress. We also want our students to realize and act upon the notion that: “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally” impacts and creates change for local and global communities for the betterment for all. Our Global Studies program is one way we engage our students in this level of learning, thinking and doing.
Throughout the year, students across all grade levels participate in an extensive regional study of one of the continents. This year’s focus was the region of Oceania. Our Global Studies program is enhanced by partnerships with local organizations, visits from local experts, and programming during Friday Morning Meetings and classroom workshops. Classroom studies are celebrated on our much anticipated Global Studies Museum Day. This past Friday, our classrooms transformed into exhibits and students embraced their role as museum docents, eager to share their acquired knowledge and research projects with museum visitors. One or two representatives from each grade level volunteered to sharing their reflections (included below)!
Global Studies was SO MUCH FUN! If we had to choose a favorite part, it would probably be the Museum Day at the end and seeing the projects everyone created. Kid museums are the best. It was our first time doing a project like this, which made it kind of hard. But it we were able to do it because we made a group plan.
We learned a lot almost by accident, it felt like we were just building things, writing books and doing activities. One of the most interesting things we learned was about how ocean currents and winds carry seeds all the way to far off places like islands! It makes sense how all the islands have plants growing on them, since seeds can travel without people. We can’t wait to do Global Studies again!
In first grade, our big idea is “how does where you live affect how you live?” We studied things like how people can make boats out of the trees in their environment, and we also learned about different problems that people have, and how that affects their lives (like global warming and rising sea levels). One question we talked about the most was how our relationship with the environment here in Seattle impacts our lives, and we thought a lot about how the impacts are different or similar in Oceania.
Some of the favorite things we learned were how to throw a boomerang and how to perform the haka, a traditional Māori dance! We also learned that there’s a type of tree kangaroo that you actually call the cuscus, which we liked a lot, and we got to meet a real, live wallaby!
In second grade, we focused on two different topics. In Ms. White’s class, our topic was how people and cultures share their stories. In Ms. Spring’s class we focused on how where you live tells a story about you as well. It was quite a different process in second grade compared to what we did in Global Studies as first graders. We still built things, but there’s a lot more research involved. We think it’s a good transition. It’s funny, because some of us like making displays and models, and others liked the typing part the best!
There were a lot of specific interesting parts about the projects. We learned that the hula isn’t supposed to be with grass skirts! That was surprising. We also learned that a 15 year old girl designed the flag from Papua New Guinea. It was very inspiring to think that maybe we could do something that important one day!
In third grade, the main focus of Global Studies was finding solutions to climate change, because global warming, pollution, ocean acidification, coral bleaching and rising sea levels are affecting people living on islands in the region of Oceania. All of our projects were around the idea of people getting involved and solving real life issue. Our proposals aren’t real solutions right now, but they could be in the future. We all went through a really long, sometimes pretty hard, design process to come up with our solutions. We used classroom time, did research during library class, and developed, changed and improved our designs in the Creativity Lab! It was a lot of fun.
Some of our favorite parts were the things that we learned. We didn’t realize how quickly global warming actually happens. It is crazy to think how much we can actually do it change it, and how little changes can make a big difference! Some of our favorite parts were making all the models in our presentation. We really got to let our creative side go wild, and were able to take our minds to the limit. This meant we could brainstorm solutions that weren’t necessarily possible for us to create, but could maybe work if we had professionals or more resources, or maybe just made sense. One other favorite part was learning about chemistry. A few of us really enjoyed it, and are excited to learn about it more as we get older!
The main focus of Global Studies was understanding the history of Oceania and all the island nations inside of it. Really understanding how they are the same, different, and how they fit together and create an entire region. Our individual projects were about zooming in on one nation, or environmental or cultural aspect. It felt like a natural progression from 3rd grade, doing more research on a different topic, and really getting detailed facts. We had to have more detail than we’ve had in the past, which made it harder to do!
We learned a lot together when we were doing this research, and it was pretty cool to see everyone’s interactions and what they chose to focus on. One class made videos, while the other wrote non-fiction books, but we all accomplished similar things. A few of us came up with some strategies to get more people interested in our topics right off the bat. One strategy that was successful was finding a few awesome facts to get people hooked. We think we might use that in other projects later on! We were surprised to learn how quickly many of the islands changed and developed. The scale of Australia also surprised us. It’s so much larger than the other islands in Oceania, which we didn’t realize because Australia is the smallest continent.
In fifth grade, we are focusing on the history of island nations in Oceania. It’s the most in depth type of research we’ve ever done, and definitely felt like a step up compared to past years. Throughout the year we visited different museums and cultural centers to learn more about communities and traditions in Oceania, and to get a real life interaction and perspective on some of the things we learned about in the classroom. We visited the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, and we even made our own paddles at the Center for Wooden Boats. We decorated our paddles to express our identity, and got to use them in canoes on Lake Union. It was one of the most engaging Global Studies projects!
During Global Studies, we learn how different but also similar cultures are even when they are so far away from us. For example, there is a type of storytelling dance called Fāgogo in the Samoa Islands, and it is a way to tell a story through movement. We learned that they are trying to preserve it, so it’s emphasized to the youth to keep it alive. It seems really different from what we do at first, but if you think about it, it’s really like our families telling stories to each other. It’s just a different way of doing it. When studying the history of islands in Oceania, we also learned about colonization, which can be difficult to think about because some people made awful choices. Sometimes you want to avoid hard topics like slavery, but it is important to realize they are difficult and to have discussions about them anyway.
Overall, it really feels like Global Studies has a good progression throughout the 6 years at Meridian. We feel like every year built on each other, and hope we will continue other forms of Global Studies when we move on to middle school!