One way WMS teachers help empower students to learn and foster their love of learning is to allow them freedom of choice. For our middle schoolers, this freedom of choice also extends to shaping parts of their curriculum. This year, they have chosen movement as the theme for their social studies curriculum.
They began the school year by brainstorming possible social studies themes in small groups, which produced a "hodge podge of ideas," said lead teacher Mandy Balanetsky. However, one student suggested many of the ideas the students proposed could be captured under the umbrella of "movement," representing both physical movement (like immigration) and political or social movements (like civil rights).
"We pulled ideas from the list that fit into the movement theme, and the students ordered them from what they were most interested in to what they were least interested in," Mandy explained.
Mandy guided the students as they structured their curriculum to ensure they could support their studies through expeditionary learning trips.
To kick off their movement studies, the middle school students are studying the first two waves of U.S. immigration. They recently visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to look at primary sources from these first waves of immigration, and will return later in the school year to examine documents from the third and fourth waves. In March, the middle-schoolers will continue their studies on immigration in New York City, where they will visit the Tenement Museum, Ellis Island and the Museum at Eldridge Street.
In addition to immigration, they plan to study various political and social movements, including the women's rights movement and the California gold rush. They will visit the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia for a program about the farm workers' movement and the Freedom Riders civil rights activists. They will also visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Delaware Historical Society for a program about citizen activism. At the end of the school year, each middle-schooler will do an independent project on a movement of his or her choice.