Our first conceptual humanities unit has begun, and we are building understanding from the ground up. As noted in your curriculum map, the unit is called Building a Community. During this unit, the students will develop an understanding of what it takes for a community to function. We begin by learning about our rights and the laws that protect them, then move on to the levels of power in the government and how elections work. We look at all of this through the lens of "cooperation." After all, society cannot function without cooperation between the government and its citizens.
To get the students in the right frame of mind, we began the unit with a creative writing activity. "Imagine a world with no grown ups, no leaders, and no rules. What would it be like?" Their writing was very thoughtful and entertaining, and contained mixed opinions of what that world would be like. Some were nightmarish, some were a kid's dream come true! Putting themselves in this imaginary situation paved the way for an important conceptual discussion about whether we really need leaders and rules.
Over the next few days we did some processing activities and reading to develop an understanding of the concept of "rights." We came up with our own definition of rights - something you can do that no one can take away from you.
We later had a meaningful entry point into the relationship between rights and laws. It all started with our classroom recycling bin. In the first few days of school, I began to notice food items and tissues in the bin. I sat the class down and reviewed what sorts of items do and don't belong in the recycling, and called their attention to the bold sign above the bin that says, "Recycling." Unfortunately, the problem persisted. My next move was to enlist the help of some middle school girls. Our school's recycling program is run by the middle schoolers, so they came and taught a hands-on lesson to the class where the students sorted items into "recyclable" and "non-recyclable" categories. Spoiler alert: the problem persisted.
Perusing through NewsELA.com, one of my favorite resources for current event articles written for kids, I happened upon an article about the waste crisis in Malaysia. Perhaps you've heard that Malaysia is closing hundreds of its recycling plants and returning waste to countries who recycled incorrectly. When bags of recycling are tainted by old fruit and other trash, the entire bag cannot be recycled. The effect becomes exponential when we're talking about 55,000 tons of contaminated waste! That's how much was sent to Malaysia's recycling plants, and that's how much they are stuck with, since it cannot actually be recycled. Because of this, the Malaysian government has created new regulations and is no longer accepting other countries' waste.
Reading this article, the students were able to see beyond the scope of our classroom to the potential global effects of irresponsible waste management. After reading and discussing the article, I posed a writing prompt to the class:
Do we need rules and laws? Why or why not? Use an example from the text to support your answer. Every student was able to make the connection between Malaysian citizens' rights to have a clean environment and the necessary laws about waste management. Not only did this activity help them to understand the consequences of their actions, but it also gave them a reality check: A world without rules would be chaotic and full of negative consequences.
I'm going to level with you -- the students are still putting trash in the recycling (insert face-palm emoji here). But at least they are beginning to understand on an intellectual level the relationships between actions, rights, and laws.
Next week, we will develop a list of what our rights are in the classroom. We will then decide what rules we can put in place to protect those rights. Their ideas will be put together to form our class constitution! Blog post to come!
Little people, big minds.