Throughout April, we are exploring how Jan Reynolds’ Vanishing Cultures series can be used in the classroom to teach about the environment, geo-literacy, global citizenship, and nonfiction. Today, we want to share how one school has integrated geo-literacy with digital and visual literacy.
Michael Willis and the Kaleidoscope Team at Williston Central School in Williston, Vermont helped their 3rd and 4th grade classroom build a map on Google Maps of the cultures featured in the books. Through this project, students were able to investigate topics and themes in the Vanishing Cultures series, practice deriving information from other formats and develop visual literacy skills, and gain rich social studies/ geography content knowledge.
The Google Maps assignment is an exciting way to engage reluctant or struggling readers, facilitate the participation of visual learners and English Language Learners, or provide an extension opportunity for ready or advanced learners. The 3rd and 4th grade students hope that in addition to deepening their own knowledge about traditional cultures, their project provides useful and valuable information for others.
From educator, Michael Willis: My 3rd and 4th grade team wanted to get an author in to share their experiences with our young writers. Ideally we wanted a local person and sure enough Jan Reynolds, who lives in Vermont, was available. First we hit up our library as well as the others in our area and got our hands on Jan’s Vanishing Cultures series. We read aloud her books, visited her website, and then Jan came.
She shared a movie about her work and travels with our whole team in the auditorium and then spent time answering questions in smaller groups. It was during one of the small presentations that Jan mentioned how great it would be to use Google Maps to highlight her book locations. I thought it would be a great project for our students, and they were motivated to do it by the idea that the project could be shared with other students who read Jan’s books.
We used Google Maps to plot out where in the world Jan’s Vanishing Cultures books take place, and put together this map.
Here’s what the students had to say about the project:
What was it like doing the Google Earth Project?
Grace – I thought that it was really fun because we were working with a famous author. We had to get all of her books and look up where she had been using Google Earth.
Isabelle – We dropped pins on the locations using the facts and map information on the inside covers of her books. Doing this project motivated us to have to read her books and learn about the cultures that she visited. It made me appreciate how lucky we are to have the things we have.
Logan – The map project was really interesting. It helped me understand how many different places Jan had been. I didn’t know that there were cultures vanishing from the Earth. It made me want to learn more about the cultures. The books were helpful because she had really been to visit the people, talk to them, and learn how they live.
Addie – We used the summaries and the content from the books to add a brief description to the pins which marked the places. This project motivated us because we wanted to help others learn. It felt special because we were the first ones to do this and actually get published! Plus, I didn’t even know these cultures existed!
Myleigh – The motivating part of the project was that I don’t usually get to explore the world. How often do people get to learn about this kind of thing? It was almost like traveling the world reading Jan’s books.
What do you think is the purpose of Jan’s books? What do they help you realize?
Sean – Her purpose was to teach children about the Vanishing Cultures and what is happening to them. I think Jan’s message was not that they need our help because they have been surviving for a long time. She was telling us that we should respect them, their way of life, and to respect their land. I learned that they are just like everyday people. To them, I bet we would look like the outsiders. Everyone has traditions that they do.
Addie – We are lucky to have so many resources to use.
Grace – It made me realize how different these cultures are from us
Isabelle – It also made me realize that we all are not that different. We may have different stuff and live in different parts of the world, but we all are people.
Grace – We can help other cultures by protecting the regions where they live
Addie – We realized that while our cultures are different, we shouldn’t force them to disappear because we all have something to learn from each other. We could be more conscious of our waste and our pollution and that could help them keep their culture and survive
Isabelle – I think that it is important to respect different cultures because it’s how they live. The Celebrations book helped me learn that different cultures celebrate different holidays
What was it like having Jan visit?
Myleigh – It was really cool to see Jan’s presentation and to hear her describe her trips first hand. It really helped me put myself in her shoes and understand what she was going through. When I was hearing her use such descriptive language it felt like I was right there with her.
Katrina – I think that since she came it really helped us understand that you should appreciate what you have – even though the people in the other cultures don’t have a lot they still seemed happy. The people in those cultures work hard to live off the land and work with nature by using their resources. It really helped me learn about cultures that I didn’t know about.
For more resources on the Vanishing Cultures series, check out:
- Beyond “Did you know…”: Teaching Geo-Literacy Using the Vanishing Cultures Book Series
- Raising Global Citizens: Jan Reynolds Author Study
How are you using the Vanishing Cultures series in your classroom? Share your thoughts, experiences, and strategies that have worked in your school and community! Post a comment below or email Lee & Low at firstname.lastname@example.org.