Mimi Norton teaches second-grade social studies at Solano Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. Four hours south of the Grand Canyon, Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities in America. The rural farmland and desert that Ms. Norton remembers from growing up in Phoenix has been replaced by a sprawling downtown and new residential and commercial developments.
Solano Elementary School is located in downtown Phoenix and reflects the city's ethnic diversity. Roughly 85 percent of the students are minorities -- predominantly African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Bosnian; some are recent immigrants. Most families live in subsidized housing. All qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the school provides uniforms for its students. The school's population tends to be very transient, with students moving and transferring schools several times during the year.
Ms. Norton started the year with a unit on the five themes of geography, combining the district guidelines with units from National Geographic. Students were introduced to the vocabulary of geography, the globe as a model of the earth, maps and map symbols, climate, terrain, plants and animals in different geographic regions, and movement, to name just a few of the topics covered in the unit. Ms. Norton used geography as a unifying theme throughout the year, introducing each new region by having students first examine its geography.
By the time the class began the unit on China, Ms. Norton wanted students to understand that the Earth's surface features vary from place to place and that maps are diagrams that use symbols to represent the locations of places and things in relation to other places and things. She also wanted students to understand the relationship between people and the environment, that structures like the Great Wall are erected for a purpose, and that there is a connection between themselves and people of different cultures.
In the lesson "China Through Mapping," Ms. Norton relied heavily on her own experience as a 1999 Fulbright fellow in China. She had her students explore natural and human-made landforms in China and how China's culture and history is shaped in part by its geographic location and features. Subsequent lessons in the China unit covered movement and transportation, more about the nation's culture and history, famous people and places, and Chinese inventions. After the unit on China, the class went on to study Africa and African American history.
Lesson Background >>