Students and parents at Hamilton Crossing Elementary were able to take a trip around the world that didn’t cost them anything but about an hour of their time.
The 36 third- through fifth-grade GATEWAY students wrapped up their yearlong world geography unit on countries by presenting a Tour of Nations parade May 3 in the old gym.
Students completed extensive research, became an "expert" on a particular country or continent and created a display for their travel booth that highlighted the cultural and physical aspects of that country or continent, such as population, currency, government, languages, religions, customs, holidays, foods, landforms and famous structures.
“I wanted the students to have a culminating task for our unit of study that was exciting and engaging,” fourth-grade GATEWAY teacher Shelly Abernathy said. “Having an end goal and something meaningful to work toward gives their learning purpose. They take ownership in their learning when it is something of interest and meaningful to them.”
“The students compared and contrasted the different countries to our own country, and what they learned is that while there are many differences, there are also many similarities,” said Jennifer Colston, who teaches third- and fifth-grade GATEWAY students. “This is an important point for children to understand as global citizens.”
When school started in August, the students began doing some prerequisite study on world geography concepts and learning about physical and cultural aspects of various countries and continents, according to the teachers.
After Christmas break, they chose a country on which they wanted to become an expert and started researching it extensively through websites, library books, online resources, encyclopedias and personal family contacts. They began putting together their presentations when they returned from spring break.
Dressed in authentic costumes from their country or continent, the students marched into the gym carrying banners and items that represented their country, like a coconut, a soccer ball or a replica of a famous landmark.
“The third-grade students represented the main continents/regions of the world,” Colston said. “They marched in and gave a brief introduction of that continent/region. The fourth- and fifth-grade students represented some of the countries found in/on each continent/region. They marched in behind their continent/region and said ‘hello’ in the native language of their country.”
They then welcomed “travelers” — first, parents, grandparents and guests, including Bartow school board members Anna Sullivan and Derek Keeney, then fourth-graders, third-graders and fifth-graders — to their booths and told them all about the countries they had chosen: Myanmar, Algeria, Ghana, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Iceland, Ukraine, Fiji, Greece, New Zealand and others.
“The third-graders used ThingLink to showcase their research,” Abernathy said. “They sat at tables and used a stamp to stamp all visitors’ passports as they entered their continent. Visitors could click on their ThingLink presentation to see information about their continent.”
The fourth- and fifth-grade booths were set up behind the continent tables, and each featured the nation’s flag and contained a tri-board that showcased some facts the students felt were “important for others to know about their country,” Abernathy said.
Students also had to include a 3-D model or artifact from their country.
“The students took this idea and ran with it,” she said. “They brought in some very interesting artifacts or created some on their own that was remarkable.”
Finally, the experts had to create an infomercial about their country using a green screen and an iPad.
“We uploaded their infomercials and shared it with the visitors using a QR code,” she said.
Fourth-grader Katie Long said she wanted to become an expert on Ireland for a couple of reasons.
“I chose Ireland as my country for the Tour of Nations parade because I have heard that Ireland is very pretty, and I have a little bit of Irish in me, and so does a lot of other people so I thought that it would be very cool to learn about what is in me and what I have in me,” the 10-year-old said, noting she included an Irish wishing stone in her display.
Fifth-grader Bridget Galloway, 11, chose Brazil for her project because it has a “great culture.”
As for continents, third-grader Alexandra Williams, 8, selected Antarctica.
“When we were first learning about continents, I learned some new things [about Antarctica], and it got me interested,” she said.
Both teachers were thrilled with how well their students did during the all-day event.
“Our students were very enthusiastic and engaged in this project,” Colston said. “The Tour of Nations presentation represented our students' best work, and it was fabulous. The students worked extremely hard researching their countries and learning about the culture. They were very creative in designing their backboards and presentations. Their personalities could really be seen in what they created.”
Abernathy called it “such an amazing experience.”
“I was so proud of my students,” she said. “Their hard work and dedication was evident during our Tour of Nations event. There was a lot of hard work that went into making this event happen.”
The teachers wanted the students to learn about other places around the world to make them realize that not everyone has it as good as Americans do.
“We are often unaware of the world around us and only familiar with what we live from day to day,” Abernathy said. “I also wanted them to realize that not everyone lives like we do in America. We are a blessed country, and I want my students to appreciate and understand that we are not all exactly the same.”
Colston said a video series called "Families of the World" was a very helpful tool for creating those “aha” moments for the students.
“The videos follow children and their families in different countries through a typical day,” she said. “It is very eye-opening for our students to see how children live in other places.”
By the end of the project, students seemed to have learned at least one new fact about their country.
Fourth-grader London Barrere, 10, who studied Egypt, said she learned the Nile River “had actually been created by a flood.”
Bridget discovered that some trees in Brazil produce latex while Alexandra learned that male elephant seals in Antarctica “have long trunks, and when they put them up, it means that animals stay away.”
In his research, 10-year-old Emery Holt, a fourth-grader, found out that the Chinese make “lots of furniture because they have more exposure to iron.”
And Katie learned that the Irish eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day “and hardly ever eat sweets such as candy.”