Studying Leaders Throughout American History
Since the fall, fourth graders’ social studies lessons have focused on leaders throughout our country’s history, from its earliest days to the present.
Early, we learned about colonial founders, such as Peter Stuyvesant, the general director of New Amsterdam (what is now modern day New York City) and William Penn, who established Pennsylvania, and his vision for an open, peaceful colony with religious freedom built on Quaker values. This gave us an opportunity to compare the inequities of the colonial past to the more contemporary vision of equality demonstrated in the I Have a Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students then wrote and illustrated their personal visions of peace.
Recently the fourth grade began looking at the life and times of founding father Ben Franklin. By discovering more about Ben’s childhood and life as a statesman, inventor, patriot, husband and father the students are honing their definitions of a hero and their ideas about what constitutes heroic action.
Fifth graders, meanwhile, have been introduced to different sets of leaders as they learn about dichotomies of America’s Gilded Age and the era’s famous reformers and industrialists: such as Andrew Carnegie, Jane Addams, and Mother Jones. Our focus on Theodore Roosevelt revealed his privilege, passions, and prejudices. This exploration of the personal history and tragedies of one of America’s most important figures illuminates the contradictions and complexity of his character.
Amidst rehearsals for the play, fifth grade students read about an African-American hero/heroine of choice to study including Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. As a culminating project, students got to practice their presentation and public speaking skills through Google slideshows and oral reports.