Tales From Elementary School: To Vladivostok and Beyond…

Day two of Tuesdays at the elementary school, check. I also led a lesson on Thursday, but today’s turned out to be pretty epic.

In going along with our theme of Russia for social studies, I began where I left off last week, at the end of the Czars and the beginning of the Soviet Union. However, I wanted the kids to get some perspective on just how large Russia really was, so I introduced them to the Trans-Siberian Railway. I know that these kids love anything that has to do with transportation, so it was perfect. We went around the room and made guesses on a) how many miles of train tracks there were, and b) how much time it would take to get from end to end, Moscow to Vladivostok. Some of the guesses were silly, but most were pretty on target. Miranda (again, all names for privacy), one of the youngest students, guessed that the train was 6,000 miles long, which was the closest of anyone; the actual distance, according to my source, was 5,772 miles, but I checked a few more places, and the number seems to be closer to 6,152. Still, in the ballpark. The actual time it takes to travel the whole way is 8 days, and two students got extremely close in their guesses, choosing 7.5 days. Those two? Kate, and…Miranda. I don’t know about you, but if it involves guessing numbers, I want to be on Miranda’s team.

Next, I wondered aloud how long of a trip that would be, so it was time for a class trip. We all lined up in a train, and I used my phone’s stopwatch to time how long it took all of us to march around the block and back to the school, and then see how long it took, and then see how many trips around the school it would take to equal a one-way trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The answer? 1,152. That’s a lot of walking for little legs.

After a quick break, we headed into the Multi-Purpose Room for Part II of the lecture. We left behind the train and fast-forwarded to the 1950s/1960s, the birth of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Crystal surprised me by knowing what the Cold War was, and explained it to the rest of the class. We then talked a little about the first people to go to space, and the first to land on the moon. Then, it was time to do…a space dance!

First, I instructed everyone to find their own space in the room, and crouch into a ball. Then, I turned on “Cold War” by Janelle Monae – a perfect backdrop song for this activity – and we went through the stages of space flight. We built our rockets, attached our engines, put on our seatbelts, flew through space, landed on the moon, experienced zero-G, re-entered our pods, strapped in, and flew back to Earth, landing just as the final drumbeats hit on the song.

Then, we reconvened in the classroom to talk about the breakup of the Soviet Union, and I broke the kids up into five groups of three, and each group got a packet of info about a country which came from the Soviet Union, and were assigned to make a poster about it, following the diagramming plan (a satellite diagram) that I did on the board about Russia. For this project, I did research on five interesting countries: Azerbaijan, Latvia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Each group got an info packet and an iPad to look up pictures of things like national symbols and flags. Marla helped the Ukraine group with their poster, which included horses and the Chernobyl disaster. The Azerbaijan group worked on their own to draw an incredibly detailed Azeri flag, and made a border of flames, and a cup of tea. I flitted between the three other groups – the Latvia group had a slow start, I think they ended up with a flag and a few other shapes; the Kazakhstan group, consisting of three kids who I wasn’t sure would work together well, came up with a cool poster full of apples and eagles; and the Kyrgyzstan group drew flags, airplanes, snow, tulips, and their national animal, the snow leopard. We only had enough time for Azerbaijan and Ukraine to present, but we’ll finish it up next week.

As for me, I learned a lot today as well. Dealing with the train game taught me to handle outdoor activities with care, and that I need to figure out more about how rocket ships work. Also, when doing guessing games, everyone gets one shot, no answer-changing. And of course, make sure the kids know why Azerbaijan is the Land of Fire, and not just what it is.

Oh, and someone in the class wants to be me when they grow up. So that’s kind of a big deal.

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