Local Geography Block- Fourth Grade

The fourth grade class started our year with a Local Geography Block. It was an exciting first few weeks, and as a relatively new Columbia resident, I got to learn right along with them!

Our day begins by shaking their hands and checking in on each one of the students to gauge how their morning has gone so far. Then after a moment of unpacking, I sing:
The autumn winds blow open the gate, St. Michael for you we wait! We follow you, show us the way. With joy we greet the autumn day. Good Morning, Good Morning!
This is our call to circle, so we may begin with lighting our candle and saying our verse. For the first block, I had them raise up on their toes and balance for a few counts while I waited for everyone to be ready for the verse. It was a good way to focus our often-wiggly bodies and ‘glue’ our feet to the ground as we recite. The verse remains the same in fourth grade as the earlier grades, so they know it very well:
The sun with loving light makes bright for us each day.
The soul and spirit power gives strength unto my limbs.
In sunlight shining clear, I reverence O God,
The strength of humankind, which thou hast so graciously planted within my soul,
That I with all my might, may love to work and learn.
From thee comes light and strength. To thee rise love and thanks.

Our Circle continues with song, dance and poetry on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have recorder and Chinese jump rope. The content for circle is often related to our block or the season, and is attached for you to see. I had fun choosing songs after learning that Missouri is perfectly positioned at the center of many rich musical traditions.
Though we usually only have 10-15 minutes of recorder practice, we are learning a lot with these new instruments. We have now learned a full scale from ‘low C’ to ‘high C,’ which will allow us to play a wider variety of songs. The Chinese jump rope is a game I brought from my own grade school experience, and is helping us in rhythmic jumping, practicing patterns, and really focusing on getting our feet far off the ground while remaining nimble and quick. In the new math block, we will be adding times tables to our jumping patterns.

After Circle, we move into Main Lesson. We began the school year with two days of Form Drawing to bring us together as a class. The girls were thrilled to be challenged by the complexity of fourth grade forms. We began by wrapping a ‘snake’ of beeswax around our pencil to really observe it closely. This allowed us to then draw it in chalk while checking back with our pencil to ensure the proportions and ‘under-over’ pattern turned out right.
The students wowed themselves with great improvement between versions of this drawing, and were then ready to try a real Celtic knot. These take inner focus, and they work best when the students get into a rhythm with the weaving pattern, and do not over-think it. It can feel like a kind of therapy as you get deeper into the knot and tune out the world around you. These qualities make the knots ideal for the fourth grader as they discover where they are in space and how the world fits together around them. (Form drawing will be woven into all of our blocks throughout the year.)

This transitioned perfectly into Local Geography and an introduction to map making. I began by asking them to stand on top of their desks, and see how everything looks to a bird flying high in the sky. We noted that you cannot see a whole object, but just the outline of its top. This prepared us to make miniature beeswax models of first our own desk and chairs, and eventually the whole classroom.
I introduced the history of the Compass Rose and cardinal directions, so that we may orient ourselves. We labeled the directions in our classroom, with each student ‘claiming’ a direction. They each got to choose the paint colors for their direction, and they remain very connected to and proud of them. We might as well all start referring to them as Robin (N), Elina (S), Opal (E) and Pearl (W) instead!

Our block continued with mapping our classroom, rooms in their houses, our walk to Peace Park and the park itself, and culminated in a map of Columbia. While practicing mapping, we also heard stories of people throughout time who have lived around Columbia. We began with each student sharing their own personal history, while discussing how people’s surroundings shape who they are.

We then continued with learning about the earliest Native Americans that inhabited this area, then the Missouria tribe, and finally the early settlers from Kentucky who established Smithton and eventually Columbia. We learned that regardless of the century, the common link between these people was their dependance on the mighty rivers and fresh water of Missouri.

We finished with a quick morning tour of historic Columbia (in surprisingly chilly weather) and a field trip to the Boone County History Museum at Nifong Park. Both experiences helped transport us into a different time, and imagine the lives of the people we had learned about. We discovered how perfectly City Garden and Peace Park are nestled into the Avenue of the Columns, and thought about how special it is to live in a town that was truly centered around education. Though we all enjoyed thinking about life in the past, the girls agreed that they appreciate that Columbia now has running water, and that girls and boys can attend the same universities.

This week was the start of a Math block, and we will not have Missouri Geography until next semester. To keep this excitement about their surroundings alive, please take the opportunity for family excursions to places around Columbia and the state! While on any family travels, feel free to ask them to help you navigate. The more variety of maps they see and use, the better!