Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America

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Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America

Katie Nelson

Sugar Creek Elementary

Summer 2011

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Through this one week unit, students will explore how children’s lives have changed over time. They will explore schooling, housing, transportation and how a community was viewed in the past, as well as today. Students will then use critical thinking to compare life in the past to their lives today and predict how daily life will change for children in the future.

Overview/ Materials/Historical Background/LOC Resources/Standards/ Procedures/Evaluation/Rubric/Handouts/Extension

Overview Back to Navigation Bar


Students will:

  • evaluate photographs from the early 1900s and compare these situations to their life today

  • learn to look at photographs critically and evaluate the perspective of people/objects in each photo

  • compare and contrast past and present situations

  • use their knowledge to predict what situations may look like in the future

Recommended time frame

1 week

Grade level


Curriculum fit

Social Studies, Language Arts


  • Perspective Writing

  • Venn Diagram

  • Interview Questionnaire

  • Future Prediction worksheet

  • Crayons/Pencils

  • SmartBoard and computer

  • Easel paper and markers for class discussions

  • Rubric

Illinois State Learning Standards Back to Navigation Bar

Language Arts:
GOAL 3: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes.

  • 3.A Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and structure.

  • 3.B Compose well-organized and coherent writing for specific purposes and audiences.

GOAL 4: Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations.

  • 4.A Listen effectively in formal and informal situations.

GOAL 5: Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.

  • 5.B Analyze and evaluate information acquired from various sources.

  • 5.C Apply acquired information, concepts and ideas to communicate in a variety of formats.

Social Studies:

GOAL 16: Understand events, trends, individuals and movements shaping the history of Illinois, the United States and other nations.

  • 16.A Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation.

  • 16.C Understand the development of economic systems.

  • 16.D Understand Illinois, United States and world social history.

GOAL 18: Understand social systems, with an emphasis on the United States.

  • 18.C Understand how social systems form and develop over time.

Procedures Back to Navigation Bar

Day One:

  • As a class, students will compose a narrative in a journal format that details a typical school day in second grade. They will then individually write a journal entry that tells a typical day in their life before and after school.

  • We will discuss the components that are common in each child’s day and those that are different. We will create a list of objects and materials the students use throughout the day when engaged in these “typical” activities.

  • Students will watch a selection from the video on Iowa’s one room schoolhouses:

Day Two:

  • Students and teacher will review the journal entries and materials used from day one.

  • Introduce the photographs that show past school houses and children at school.

  • Model how to think about and analyze each photo. Think aloud with questions such as “I wonder why the children are all different ages”

  • Ask questions such as the following for each photo:

  • What do you notice about this photograph?
    How is it different from one of the photographs I took this week?

  • What do you see in this picture that reminds you of something we still do/have in school today?

  • Students will take home the Interview Questionnaire to interview a grandparent or older individual.

Day Three & Four:

  • Review previous days’ discussions.

  • Continue to analyze photographs of bicycles, desks, comparing them to these materials how they look today.

  • Students choose one photograph and write from the perspective of a person in that picture. The class will write one perspective paragraph together before students complete their individual work.

Day Five:

  • Review all major points from the week’s discussion. Encourage students to share their perspective writings.

  • Students will choose one area: school, family or transportation and complete a Venn Diagram to compare this topic in the past vs. today.

Evaluation Back to Navigation Bar

Students will complete a Venn Diagram, which will be graded using the rubric included.

Extension Back to Navigation Bar

Students will use their knowledge of schools in the past and present to describe how they feel schools will look and be conducted in the future.

Historical Background

Back to Navigation Bar

History of One Room Schoolhouses:

The one room schoolhouse is an icon of American education. We've probably seen one in pictures and perhaps even been inside of one. What was the education like? How might it compare with what we have today?

To answer these and other questions, I hiked across the road to visit my good friend Fred who as a child attended three such schools; one in Kansas, one in Colorado, and one in Wyoming.

There is nothing like the sage voice of experience.

While having coffee, we talked about the layout of a one room schoolhouse, the function in the community, and his experience with this part of American education.

Fred recalled with great fondness his days of one room schoolhouse education. It's something our present day generation won't experience, but you could sure tell that my good friend savored his recollections.

Here is what this Libertarian learned.


The schoolhouses were basically a square building with a single entrance and exit on the face of the building. A flagpole for "old glory" was set out in front of the building not too far from the entrance. A wood or coal bin stuck out from one front corner to hold fuel for the stove inside.

Windows lined the sides of the building and the rear wall was a solid windowless wall where the blackboard was mounted. As you entered the building, a long entryway ran perpendicular to your path of entry, partitioned from the main classroom except for the doorway entrance.

On one side of the entryway was a coat rack and places for boots. On the other side was the internal portion of the wood or coal bin, allowing access to the fuel.

The classroom consumed the majority of the building on the other side of the entryway partitions. Windows on the side walls let in light to the interior.

Two rows of desks were lined up on either side of the central aisle from the entry door to the blackboard at the far side of the building. The teacher's desk was in a corner near the blackboard. Sometimes that end of the room was elevated as a type of platform, but otherwise it was just part of classroom floor space.

A heating stove was in one of the corners at the back of the room. Sometimes a wood stove, and sometimes a coal stove.

An outhouse was also a feature of the schoolhouse, but outside of course, and a horse shed was part of the scene as well. Some of the kids rode horses to school while others walked or got a ride.

There was also a swing or swing set in the school yard for use during recess. A merry-go-round was also a common feature on the playground.

Teaching and Learning

There were typically two to ten children in the one room schoolhouse. Grades one through eight all took lessons in the same room. Everyone had their own lessons, and older kids helped younger kids with the assignments. It was a shared educational experience the likes of which I'm not familiar with.

Of course, reading, writing and arithmetic were standards. English composition and geography were also taught. Focus was on a basic foundational education. For some, this was all the education they would ever get, and perhaps ever need. The breadth and sophistication of the curriculum weren't what we have today, but when you learned a subject, you learned it well.

According to those who had a one room schoolhouse education, it was a fine education, even though the standards weren't what we have in place today. Imagine that! Seemingly lower expectations, but good results nevertheless.

Student Interactions

There were two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Outdoor play was determined in part by the weather, and included:

  • marbles

  • mumbledy peg (pronounced: mum-bull-dee-peg)

  • flying kites

  • swinging

  • riding on the merry-go-round

  • tag

You'll probably not recognize mumbledy peg because it involves knives. In this game of skill, you drop or release your open pocket knife from various holds to get it to stick into the soil and stand upright.

I know, knives are no-no's at school today, but they didn't used to be. The rule of the day was if you're old enough to go to school and you're old enough to wear pants, then you're old enough to have a pocket knife. Have the times changed, or have we?

At the end of recess, the teacher would ring a hand-held bell and that signaled time to return to the classroom.

One Room Schoolhouse Lunch Program

When kids came into the schoolhouse, they brought along their lunch as well. Imagine that! Parents fed their children back in those days. Come to think of it, that's how it was for me as well. I brought a sack lunch.

The schoolhouse also had it's own well. Water was pumped with a hand operated pitcher pump to fill a milking pail with water. The water pail was brought into the schoolhouse, and kids drank from the pail using a ladle - a community ladle.

No drinking fountains in the hall.

School as part of the Community

The one room schoolhouse also served as a place where folks would get together for social gatherings. A popular activity was a "box supper" where young women of the community would prepare a meal and place it in a box or picnic basket, and the men would bid on the meals.

The idea was that the men didn't know who had prepared the meals, but I'm certain some of that information leaked out somehow. Anyway, the man with the winning bid got to enjoy the meal in the company of the lady who had prepared it.

It was a nice and friendly competitive atmosphere, and what a wonderful way to show your affection for another - and get fed too.

Also, the school teacher wasn't necessarily a part of the community, but brought in from elsewhere to teach the children. Not being a permanent resident of the community, it was common to have the teacher reside with a family that lived nearby the school, whether that family had kids in school or not.

Comparison with Today

It seems that our one room schoolhouse is quite different from today. Let's look at some of the differences.

  • We don't have children riding to school on a horse. We bus kids for many miles to get them to a central school.

  • Instead of a low pupil to teacher ratio, schools today can have more pupils in one classroom than the teacher in the one room schoolhouse ever saw in several years. Both my elementary school and middle school had more than 500 students. My high school had well over 1,000.

  • With such large facilities, the focus on learning would naturally shift to a focus on production.

  • Pocket knife games have yielded to "zero tolerance" where kids can't even draw a picture of a knife.

  • Older kids helping younger kids with studies isn't a part of anything I ever remember. All I remember was a class orientation where we had "upperclassmen" who apparently were better just because they were older, not because they really were any better.

  • And I've never heard of a teacher being such a close knit part of the community. The closest we ever came to that was a parent teacher association. I'll bet you those aren't nearly as meaningful as having the teacher reside with a family in the community.

History of the bicycle:

There are several early but unverifiable claims for the invention of bicycle-like machines.

The earliest comes from a sketch said to be from 1493 and attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. Hans-Erhard Lessing recently claimed that this last assertion is a purposeful fraud.[1][2] However, the authenticity of the bicycle sketch is still vigorously maintained by followers of Prof. Augusto Marinoni, a lexicographer and philologist, who was entrusted by the Commissione Vinciana of Rome with the transcription of da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus.[3]

Later, and equally unverifiable, is the contention that Comte de Sivrac developed a célérifère in 1791, demonstrating it at the Palais-Royal in France. The célérifère supposedly had two wheels set on a rigid wooden frame and no steering, directional control being limited to that attainable by leaning.[4] A rider was said to have to sat astride the machine and pushed it along using alternate feet. We now know a two-wheeled célérifère never existed (though there were four-wheelers) and it was a misinterpretation by the well known French journalist Louis Baudry de Saunier in 1891.[5][6]
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Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America iconA compilation of Real Life Experiences

Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America iconAustralian council of state school organisations (acsso) The national voice of parents of children in Australia’s public schools and their school communities

Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America iconJudges are unpredictable in that they rely upon their life experiences

Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America iconSubmitted by: Ken Schwab, Leigh High School, San Jose ca unit: Drawing Nature Value Shading Still Life Lesson Plan: Contour Drawing Shells Grade Level: High school 9 thru 12 (adaptable to middle school)

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Then and Now: Exploring how School and Life Experiences Have Changed for Children in America iconThe wcac is dedicated to the belief that all children are entitled to a life free of violence, abuse and neglect.”

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