In two weeks, a giant floor map of Africa will be on display at our school (from National Geographic's Geography Action!). We'll be able to walk across the equator, stand on the Nile River, sit on the Sahara Desert. To make more of a connection to the map, we decided to study more about this amazing continent. We also are fortunate to have a great resource - my assistant teacher, Pam, who spent 12 years in Cameroon!
In choosing to study something as large and rich as Africa, we have to be very selective and make sure that what the children learn is meaningful. Of course, we cannot cover everything! In beginning our conversation, children had several assumptions and misconceptions about Africa. Here are a few that were striking:
Africa is a poor country.
Africa is very dry.
Everyone in Africa is black.
No one has electricity.
Everyone lives in mud huts.
We left these as a list of questions or "what we think we know" about Africa and will revisit them as we learn more. This is a variation of the tradiotional KWL strategy (what do we know, what do we want to know, what have we learned). Over the years, I've discovered that children often have inaccurate facts or misconceptions. They are often convinced that they know something and will argue at length with classmates who disagree with them. Listing these facts as something "we think we know" allows us an opportunity to go back and validate or "change" their statements, without hurting anyone's feelings.
We started our study with a geographical exploration of the continent. One their own map, the children identified the major bodies of water that surround Africa (Altlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea), the Nile River, Lake Victoria, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the three major deserts (Sahara, Namib, Kalahari). Other vocabulary included the cardinal directions, compass rose, equator, habitat, savannah, and rainforest. Here are a few of the introductory texts we used:
Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight
Learn about the daily life of children in many countries of modern Africa. See the differences in life at home, work and school as experienced by children.
Africa: A True Book by David Peterson
General information about the continent of Africa, including its most notable cultural and geographic features. Beautiful pohotgraphs! Explore this land of many contrasts.
Africa (Continents) by Leila Merrell Foster
Explore the continent of Africa and learn some intersting and amazing facts!
Look What Came From Africa by Miles Harvey
Learn about all the things that have come from Africa (music, food, fashion, art, and games).