Mancala to Mandlebrot

October, 2004

6-60If you’re wondering what mancala and mandelbrot are, the students at Lin-Wood Elementary School in Lincoln, N.H., will proudly explain that mancala is the most popular board game in Kenya, and mandelbrot is a traditional Jewish almond cake. Thanks to a special partnership project between Plymouth State University and Lin-Wood Elementary School, these youngsters are learning about geography, world cultures and the day-to-day lives of their global neighbors. And they’re loving every minute of it.

In the spring of 2002, Irene Martinez Mosedale ’76, lecturer in the PSU education department, was supervising her Methods II (Integrated Curriculum) candidates at Lin-Wood. “I was discussing with the Lin-Wood faculty ways we might enhance that course,” says Mosedale. “Deb Showalter, the reading specialist, expressed concern that many of her elementary students thought Africa was a country. It just happened that Plymouth State was then focusing on Africa as the theme of its Understanding the Global Mosaic celebration.” Understanding the Global Mosaic: Tools for Living in the 21st Century, is a yearlong, campus-wide diversity experience highlighted by special musical performances, gallery exhibitions, assigned readings and lectures which focuses on a different country or region each year.

Mosedale says, “Realizing the wonderful possibilities of a connection and the great learning opportunity it would be for my Methods candidates, I proposed a school-wide theme of Africa for Lin-Wood, and asked each of my students to create an integrated teaching unit.” Each teacher in grades K through five volunteered to mentor a PSU candidate, and each classroom studied a different country in Africa. The integrated units contributed to a comprehensive understanding of the geography, life and culture of each country, while providing each candidate with an in-depth experience of creating and teaching meaningful curriculum.

“At the end of the semester there was a school-wide celebration of Africa, with each class presenting something they’d learned about their country,” Mosedale explains. “There was a scavenger hunt to find facts about each country on interactive bulletin boards that were also created by the Methods candidates. Classroom celebrations included food and music of the country they were studying. I even worked with the cafeteria manager to create an African luncheon for all students, teachers and PSU candidates, and Black Bear Moon Studio from Thornton provided us with traditional African drumming music.”

Mike Weaver, principal of Lin-Wood, places high value on this PSU/Lin-Wood partnership and the enthusiasm for learning it generates among the students. “Teaching Kids the Globe has been a wonderful experience for all of us here at Lin-Wood. It gives the whole school a theme that is tied together in a culminating celebration for everyone. This experience enables the Methods II candidates to bring their course work to life, while at the same time enhancing our curriculum. We hope to use this model in the future for other curriculum areas as well.”

Dan Molinari ’03 was one of the Methods II candidates who participated in the Africa project. Molinari used visuals and interactive projects to take the children on a “tour” of Kenya that included a safari and trips to national parks to learn about wildlife and geography. They built mock villages and studied the tribal peoples and their cultures. Molinari says, “My second grade kids will never forget that learning adventure, and neither will I. They’d go home after school and look up pictures to bring into class the next day, and they did this out of their own fascination with what we were studying. Their excitement and enthusiasm ignited my passion for teaching like nothing had until then.” The Kenya project caught Molinari’s imagination as well. “I became as fascinated with the country as the students were,” he admits. “I hope to be able to go to Kenya and see it for myself.”

The teachers and administrators at Lin-Wood were so impressed with the quality of this learning experience that it was repeated this past spring. Using PSU’s 2002 – 2003 theme of the Middle East, Mosedale’s Methods candidates created integrated units on the countries of Afghanistan, Israel, Cyprus, Jordan, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Saudia Arabia and Turkey. The focus of the units was mainly on the similarities and differences between children in the Middle East countries and children in Lincoln, N.H. “The children shared fairytales and folktales, dance, music and food of the Middle East countries,” Mosedale says. “The units provided a wonderful way of connecting these kids to school children in the Middle East, and it really helped them to identify some common ground.”

Due to the political climate at the time, it was felt a final school-wide celebration would be inappropriate, so each class had a culminating experience of their own which avoided the complexities of politics and religion. Mosedale notes, “This project helped put the people of the Middle East in a more personal perspective, and that was especially important for those children with parents in the military.”

So where are the Lin-Wood students now? “The school is again mirroring PSU’s Global Mosaic theme, this time of Latin America and the Caribbean,” says Mosedale. “My Methods candidates have created their integrated units on their particular country, and each class is preparing their final presentations. As part of the school-wide celebration, we’re planning to have a special Caribbean luncheon and to invite Mango Groove, a steel drum band from North Conway, to perform.”

This project has become so popular at Lin-Wood that the model was piloted this year by the New Hampton Community School, where Mosedale’s Methods candidates are helping the children in their study of the Caribbean countries. There will likely be other sites as word of these global adventures travels through the education community. —KH

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