• Note:  Your students study social studies and science every other week (alternating weeks).


    Weeks 1 & 2 -- We explored our new social studies program online.  We do not have the hard copies of our program yet, but luckily everything is also available online.  The link is on my website

    Each child identified something that they are excited to learn about in social studies, and they created a picture on a caravel ship to depict their interest.  These are hanging inside and outside our classroom now! 

    We then began our civics unit with a voting simulation.  The children had to vote on a class mascot.  Children nominated an animal as a mascot, someone had to second it, and then the child who nominated it had to persuade the class to adopt it.  We then took a vote.  To win, a mascot had to earn 9 of the 13 votes from our 13 voting groups.  We repeated the procedure multiple times, but we never got to a winner.  This served as an excellent introduction to one of the many weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, our first written plan of government.  We then read about the Articles of Confederation and took notes on their strengths and weaknesses.  We worked on pulling information from the text to complete our notes, and the kids did a great job!


    Week 3 & 4 --  We started the week by learning about Shays' Rebellion and how it led to the formation of the Constitutional Convention.  I also introduced the lesson vocabulary to the students, and they did various online activities to reinforce the definitions of the vocabulary words. 

    We discussed the Constitutional Convention and how the delegates formed a federal system.  We looked at three big compromises that were made during the convention in order to move forward the process of writing the Constitution (the Great Compromise, the 3/5 Compromise, and the Electoral College Compromise).  We discussed at length how the 3/5 Compromise meant, sadly, that slavery was actually recognized in the Constitution.  We also talked about the concept of compromise in general, and the kids shared (verbally and in writing) how they have arrived at compromises in their own lives. 

    We then moved on to a look at how the Constitution set up the three branches of government.  We learned about the powers of each branch. We did this by reading articles about each branch and learning to highlight important information in the articles before taking notes.  We ended the week with a study of checks and balances.  The kids watched video clips of different newsworthy or historical events and identified which "check" was demonstrated in each video.



    Weeks 1 & 2  -- We started the week looking at how a bill becomes a law, and of course, we watched and sang the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon/song, "I'm Just a Bill."  We viewed a slideshow that I created about the process of making a law, and then we took notes.  During the remainder of the week, we studied the Bill of Rights.  We did a really interesting simulation where the students were presented with a "new school" that they were going to attend, and it had eight very unfair rules (which connected to some of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, but they didn't know).  We discussed what was unfair about each rule and what the kids could do about the rules.  They were very angry about the fact that they did not have the right to speak freely and protest the rules!  Later, we began a look at the history behind the Bill of Rights, and we then read about and discussed the various amendments.  This week, I printed pages out for the students (we still don't have our books), so that they could learn how to highlight important information in the text.  We started working on a brief graphic organizer for each of the ten amendments.  I am excited for our next week in social studies when the students will be working on short skits to illustrate the various amendments in the Bill of Rights! 

    Note:  We also finished the week with our first social studies assessment on the Constitution. I typically hand out study guides to the students four days to about a week ahead of time, and I post them on my website.  I also send an email to parents on the day that I announce the test to the students.  We discuss in class what a good study schedule looks like, and I give the students a chance during W.I.N. period to come see me to help clear up any confusion they might have prior to the assessment. I hope this helps them to develop good study skills this year! 

    Weeks 3 & 4 -- The students worked in groups to perform minidramas about amendments in the Bill of Rights.  They were assigned a scenario that they had to write a brief script for, and then they had to show how the Bill of Rights acted as a shield for the main character in their dramas.  I even gave them shields to hold up as they acted out their skits!  

    The remainder of the lessons were devoted to the ideas of participation in our communities, democratic responsibilities, and civic values.  We started by viewing short video clips of problems, such as pollution, poverty, poor air quality, and senior citizen loneliness, and we discussed, as a class, how students and community members could help with these problems.  The students then worked with partners to come up with two problems affecting one of their communities (Berkeley Heights or Mountain Park), and they identified possible solutions to these problems as well.  Our next two lessons involved having the students work in groups to read articles, highlight important information in them, and take notes for presentations to the class.  The articles covered the following topics: the need for laws, education, participation in our government and communities, working together, and civic values.  After the presentations (which were done really well), we took notes on the key ideas presented, using an outline form.  We ended the week with a short group project.  I presented the students with eight different community problems and links to sources they could use to research them.  Their groups had to choose one problem, write questions about it that they could research, review the sources for research, and propose a solution.  Interestingly, many of the students were fascinated by the spotted lanternfly problem we are having in our area!



    We spent the early part of the month focusing on Election Day and on presidential elections.  We discussed why voting is both a right and a privilege, and we identified the requirements for voting in an election.  We also looked at the requirements that a person must meet in order to run for president.  We played a really entertaining game, where I showed the kids pictures and statistics for people like Taylor Swift, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Michael Jordan, and the kids had to decide if these people could become president.  (Only Michael Jordan can!)  The students also filled out voter registration documents so that they could vote in our MP gubernatorial election on Tuesday, November 2. Our next lesson involved looking at the steps that are taken before a presidential election.  We called it "How to Become President," and the students learned about primaries, caucuses, conventions, and campaigning.  Finally, we studied the Electoral College and looked at a simplified example of an election to show how somebody could win the Electoral College (and therefore the presidency) but lose the popular vote.  

    We then moved on to our lessons about how the Founding Fathers created the economy we use today.  We began by looking at the definition of a free market economy and how it differed from the mercantile economies of Europe in the 1700s.  We learned about important concepts in a free market economy, including goods and services, consumers and producers, and supply and demand.  We examined how supply and demand affect prices in a free market economy.  We then studied how the Founding Fathers created our free market economy as they wrote the Constitution.  In particular, we examined Hamilton and Jefferson's differing opinions about how much the government should be involved in the economy, with a focus on taxes and the national bank.  We then moved on to a look at the roles of the Department of Treasury (makes currency, borrows money in the name of the government, collects taxes) and at how our government can make laws about trade between states and with other countries (tariffs).

    We moved on to our new unit, which begins with a study of some geography concepts.  We started by viewing a map made in 1507 by a German mapmaker named Waldseemuller.  The students examined the map and pointed out its features.  They were then introduced to our unit with a storyline and a compelling question. (The unit focuses on Native American lands and cultures, as well as European exploration to the "New World.") The kids generated questions about the unit, based on the map, storyline, and compelling question.  We then dove into our geography lessons with a look at a physical map of the United States, and we brainstormed ideas about ways our nation's geography might have affected the way people lived in the past.  We spent time reviewing map features and how to find places on a map using latitude and longitude coordinates.  We had fun with a geography challenge which involved having the students work in groups to answer questions on cards and to place information on a world map in response to those questions.  We also examined the political geography and physical features of the United States and analyzed how geography, climate, and vegetation can affect where people choose to live. 
    Next, I introduced the students to our lessons on Native American lands and cultures by having them read a Hopi origins story and working in groups to summarize its beginning, middle, and end.  I also introduced them to new vocabulary for the unit.  We then read the book The People of Twelve Thousand Winters, which is a historical fiction picture book about a young Lenni Lenape boy living in New Jersey prior to the arrival of Europeans.  We discussed the traditions that were described in the book, as well as what the land that would become northern New Jersey was like back then.
    We learned about how the early people in America most likely migrated from Asia into North America during the last Ice Age about 15,000 years ago.  We then started studying the natural resources and climates of four different environments where early Native Americans settled (grasslands, Arctic ice fields, deserts, and mountains).  We discussed how Native American groups continued to spread throughout North and South America over thousands of years and adapted to the conditions where they settled.  We focused our attention on how Inuit people adapted to the Arctic ice fields and how the climate and resources of their environment helped to shape their culture.  We also started looking at seven cultural regions in North America and how the tribes in each region developed customs, traditions, and artifacts as they adapted to the areas where they lived. We had some fun matching groups of artifacts and photos to the proper cultural regions based on what we learned about each region.  The students had to give three pieces of evidence as to why the collections came from the regions they identified.
    After finishing our work on Native American cultural regions in North America, we started our lessons on the Age of Exploration by brainstorming in groups about what can happen when two different cultures meet for the first time (we looked at the pros and cons).  The students came up with very interesting ideas, all of which happened during the Age of Exploration.  We then read an article about the Vikings and how historians think they were the first Europeans to discover America. We discussed how most Europeans in the Middle Ages did not travel far from home, but the Vikings sailed all over Europe to trade and ultimately arrived in North America and set up short-lived settlements.  When they were confronted by disease and fighting with native peoples, the Vikings abandoned their North American settlements, and most people remained unaware that the Vikings had even been there.
    February and the First Two Weeks of March
    We continued our lessons on the Age of Exploration.  For two of our classes, the students were taught by a Viking "visitor," named Brunhilde, who reviewed with them some concepts related to Viking exploration and introduced them to the stories of Marco Polo and Prince Henry of Portugal.  The students learned how Marco Polo's book, The Travels of Marco Polo, was printed in large quantities on the Gutenberg printing press in the 1400s and inspired many Europeans to dream about traveling and trading in Asia.  They also learned about the school of navigation set up by Prince Henry of Portugal to improve the maps, ships, and tools used by European sailors.  The next day, they met Christopher Columbus in class and heard his story.  He explained what a brilliant navigator he was, but he also admitted to some terrible deeds when it came to how he treated the Native Americans he encountered. This provoked a very meaningful discussion about how quite a few people in history were "monumental men with monumental flaws" (an expression that I learned on a recent fellowship that I had at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home). We then read a book called Encounter by Jane Yolen, which tells the story of Columbus's arrival on the island of San Salvador from the point of view of a young Taino boy living there.  Often, the story of Columbus and his expeditions are told from the perspective of European explorers, so this was an interesting look at the story from a very different viewpoint.  On a lighter note, your kids are a great audience and asked "Brunhilde" and "Columbus" some thought-provoking questions!
    We then studied the biographies of several early explorers.  The students watched short videos on their Chromebooks from PBS and BrainPop about John Cabot, Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, Giovanni da Verrazano, Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and Henry Hudson, and they had to write about their major achievements.  They also learned all about the conquistadors from Spain and Portugal, and how the search for the mythical Northwest Passage led to many important discoveries in the Americas. 
    We moved on to a study of colonization in the Americas by examining maps to show the extent of claims made by European countries such as Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands.  We then focused on the first English colonies in the Americas -- Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth.  We learned about why people moved to these areas (motivations), what difficulties they encountered, and how the colonies of Jamestown and Plymouth survived when Roanoke did not.  We have also discussed at length the negative impact of European settlement on Native Americans.