This past week we kicked off the second case study of our expedition on how children meet their needs. During this case study, our students move away from focusing on how they meet their needs and spend six weeks learning about how other people in the world meet their needs and how where they live impacts how they meet their needs.
For the past two years, our class has focused on how the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania meet their needs while the other class has focused on how nomadic groups in Mongolia meet theirs. This year, we are slightly shifting the focus. Instead of asking, “How do the Maasai meet their needs?” our second graders now ask, “How do Maasai children meet their needs?” This shift came out of my summer research project that was sponsored by the Fund for Teachers.
One goal of this expedition is for children to connect with others and to empathize with different perspectives. In reflecting on the expedition, I realized that it focused largely on adult roles in Maasai culture. Our second graders left with a more narrow perspective than I had hoped for. During the showcase they talked about women building mud huts and men herding cattle in the savanna. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned of the “Danger of a Single Story,” in a widely watched TED Talk and her words stuck with me as I considered revising the expedition. Often, the Maasai are used as the face of tourism and East Africa. Even as second graders, many of our students come to this expedition with preformed assumptions about Africans. I worried that as it stood, this expedition did more to preserve this singular narrative than to disrupt it. These reflections prompted my research project. This summer I traveled to Tanzania and Kenya to visit primary schools and live with a Maasai family in the effort to bring back more diverse narratives about Maasai childhood. Second graders are ever curious about other children. We hope that this shift will allow students to identify more connections instead of just distinctions. And so this past week we kicked off the second case study of our expedition by building background knowledge and creating room for asking questions. Students closely looked at bracelets, necklaces, shukas, kangas, tea, shoes, photos, and videos from Tanzania and Kenya. They studied photos of shelters in towns and villages, of private schools and government schools, and of traditional and contemporary clothing. They shared their observations and questions with each other through sticky notes. After the first session friends shared their questions and observations.
“Is this in Nigeria?”
“I didn’t know they had toys in their country.”
“It looks so big there!”
Fired up to learn more, friends then worked in groups to further build their schema by reading articles and photos. They took notes on their new learning and categorized it into information about food, shelter, clothing, play, or general information about the Maasai. Finally, friends built their schema about the climate in Kenya and Tanzania and how it affects the Maasai. They thought about the guiding question, “How does living in the savanna impact how the Maasai meet their needs?”
The gallery walk and readings had prompted friends to conclude that cows are important to the Maasai. After reading a book about animals who live in grasslands, students sorted images of the savanna. Ronan suggested that the photos with cows belong together. Marjorie argued that the photos with green grass belong together. Soon, students created two categories: grass that is green and grass that is dry. They then thought about what the weather would be like for each type of grass and concluded that the grass must be green during rainy weather while the grass becomes dry during dry weather. Eventually, they named the seasons. They then drew cows and grass to co-create a timeline showing what happens to the grass and cows during the dry and rainy seasons. Analyzing the timeline, they concluded that because of these seasons, the Maasai would have to move their cows across the savanna in order to find grass to feed them during the dry season.
“I bet they have to spend a long time, maybe even all day taking care of cows.” Justin inferred.
“Maybe the whole family has to help,” Janiah added.
“Do they have time to play?” Lucy wondered.
With that critical understanding of how climate impacts daily life, our second graders readied themselves to dig into their expert groups on food, clothing, and shelter.