Fred & Mary

I have had fun at work today.

Each week, third grade classes come to me for Info Skills, wherein we learn to approach information problems in a structured way. The first half of the year is given over to learning the Big 6, the structure we use, and the various resources available to us.

It’s an interesting proposition, because when we begin, they’re still sort of second graders, and as such are just emerging from the “learning to read” stage into the “reading to learn” stage. They have no mental picture of how information is structured, nor how to decide whether or not they even have an information problem. They can’t disaggregate multiple strands within one question (e.g., “Who was President when Minnesota became a state?”). They don’t really have any sense of which resource is the best to use. And they are just unwilling to read through all the information to find their answer.

So we take it step by step, making lots of lots of mistakes along the way and debriefing each and every one. With any luck, we’re ready at the semester to begin applying our knowledge.

Which is why I was excited when the third grade teachers approached to see if we could combine Info Skills with the performance standards about Frederick Douglass and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Here’s the standard [SS3H2]: The student will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy. Frederick and Mary are two among a small flock which includes Paul Revere, Susan B. Anthony, FDR and Eleanor, Thurgood Marshall, LBJ, and Cesar Chavez. We are also to explain social barriers, restrictions, and obstacles that these historical figures had to overcome.

(We also have to describe how these historic figures diplay positive character traits of… respect for and acceptance of authority. Wait what?)

So now we have something to which we can apply our info skills. I’m thinking we can do a timeline of these two’s lives, along with the others, and flesh them out with Presidents, wars, etc., just to give the kids some historical context. For one thing, of course, their lives barely overlapped.

Which gave me an idea. The children have no historical context. They really have no clue when it comes to sorting people and ideas and events into some kind of timeline structure in their heads.

So, I present to you Frederick Douglass & Mary McLeod Bethune: BFF! (Notice the next button down at the bottom; you’ll probably have to scroll.)

You like? I think we’re going to have a great time.

8 thoughts on “Fred & Mary

  1. This was definitely funny. Riddle me this: if you sent it to a variety of government agencies, which ones would send you grant money to continue the series? Would they question the validity of your claims?

  2. I know the last eight years have destroyed many people’s faith in government, Turff, but I maintain my hope that the government, being us, for us, and by us, is still the prop and stay of civilization.

  3. And I will continue to teach that to our students, including the fact that the list of biographies for 3rd grade gives me license to teach civil disobedience.

  4. I’ve done this with three classes so far, and the results have been interesting. One class complained as soon as we got to the Justin Timberlake reference that something was wrong. Another class tolerated the weirdness until we got to the mindmap we do to summarize what we’ve learned; then they flatly said that something was up. A third class never figured it out, even after the teacher and I were drawing their attention directly to the dates involved. Bethune was 111 years old when Douglass was born? Wow, that’s old. That’s really old. Cool.

  5. I’m afraid that third class may produce someone who will work for the Think Tank running the George W. Bush Memorial Library writing revisionist history that will make Bush look good.

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