Like many Grammar School teachers, we are always looking for ways to design meaningful learning activities that integrate our curriculum across disciplines. We want our students to recognize the interconnectedness between what they are learning in history, literature, art, math, science, Bible, etc. Teaching an integrated curriculum is important for a number of reasons, not least of all because it demonstrates to students in a tangible way that all knowledge should be viewed as a coherent whole. Given that all truth has God as its single source, the study of God and His creation through the different disciplines should be undertaken as a unified enterprise. Thus developing activities that ingrain this unity is important for helping students to learn the nature of truth and its relation to our Creator.
In addition to finding projects that foster cross- disciplinary integration, we also seek to develop activities that are as hands-on as possible. While such activities are particularly helpful for students with certain learning styles, we have found that all Grammar students learn best by doing. Providing students with hands-on kinesthetic activities encourages their active engagement
in the learning process and also aids them in practically understanding the implications of abstract ideas. We also have found that through hands-on activities we are able to help students make connections between what they are learning in class and practical aspects of their life outside of school.
Developing activities that meet these dual goals of cross-disciplinary integration and hands-on learning is not particularly difficult, but it does require intentionality and planning. The rest of this article consists of a series of such activities that we have developed and found to be particularly effective. These activities are organized chronologically around various historical themes. For each theme we have listed a short series of activities categorized by the curricular disciplines they represent. Most of these activities can easily be adapted to be age-appropriate for various grade levels as needed. Our ideas certainly are not exhaustive but are rather a springboard for further brainstorming. We hope that what follows provides you with some practical ideas that you can implement, or that it at least gets you thinking about how to develop other activities that encourage hands-on and cross-disciplinary learning.
Natural History: Grow a garden from seeds either in an outside container or by starting seedlings in egg cartons in the classroom.
Math: Plant and observe the growth of plants by measurement in inches or centimeters from beginning of growth and record data on bar or line graphs.
Art: Journal sketches of plant growth at each stage. Grammar/Composition: Have students write a paragraph about their observations on the goodness of God through creation with reference to Genesis 1:11.
Reign of Tutankhamen
Literature: Read and research Howard Carter and his discovery of King Tut’s tomb as well as King Tut himself; look at Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization to study the discovery of beans buried with King Tut that were planted and harvested even to this day.
Natural History: Read about mummification in Aliki’s Mummies Made in Egypt and identify the various stages of mummification; take this a step further by mummifying chickens or hot dogs in class. (Consult an Egyptologist or Google for the steps for mummifying.)
Art: Draw a pyramid on manila paper or sculpt out of clay; make copies of different types of hieroglyphics, allowing students to create messages or name plates, etc.; students also can create cartouches of their names using hieroglyphics.
Bible – Help students make connections between this period in Egyptian history and biblical events happening at the same time such as Joseph being sold into slavery; discuss how through God’s plan He saved the people of Israel from starvation when the famines came.
Greece Colonized, Democracy Begins
History: Have students work in groups and research the beginnings of Greek government using Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization chapter 6 or Bauer’s Story of the World chapter 22; then study the foundations of elections and voting worldwide, assigning each group a different section of government and allowing them to demonstrate the process by holding a mock election. Natural History: Study how overpopulation and the need for new food sources led the Greeks to turn to the sea for food; discuss food cycles and methods for increasing crop production. Art: Use real (dead) fish to dip in paint and make fish paintings; discuss how the Greeks turned to the sea as a source of food because of growth and overpopulation.
Reign of Caesar Augustus
Literature: Have students read about Octavian & Mark Antony; read about and discuss the officials who served under Caesar Augustus as explained in Haaren and Poland’s Famous Men of Rome.
Natural History: Study and grow grains used during this period such as corn and wheat in a galvanized container inside the classroom.
Math: Record data observations on the growth of the grains in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs with the results.
Art: Bring in examples of fully grown grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, etc.) and create a mosaic.
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in Roman history and biblical events happening at the same time such as the birth of Christ.
Geography: Draw or create maps depicting the Silk Road from China to Imperial Rome and identifying trade routes through the Holy Land, Persia, and eventually to China. Literature: Read together The Travels of Marco Polo and then have students journal their own journey through the school year (the first day of school, field trips, vacation, special events, etc.).
Natural History: Bring in examples of the different kinds of spices from home, the grocery store, or a spice shop; bring in ginger root and grow it in the classroom by putting it in water until roots appear and then planting it in dirt much like a sweet potato plant.
Bible: Research the missionaries who went to influence the Eastern religions of the time, some of whom are mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo.
Literature: Read about and research Leonardo DaVinci
from Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilzation, chapter 16, Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 66, or internet sources; identify his birth place, his educational experience, his inventions, and his monumental influence on today’s society.
Art: Have students observe and create sculptures, architecture, and paintings (for example, The Mona Lisa or The Lord’s Supper) of the time by copying the works as best as they are able or by applying the artistic principles from the Renaissance to create their own original works.
Natural History: Study and research inventions made during this time period (printing press, the flying machine by DaVinci, the bicycle, etc.) and create new inventions; study the human body by having students research and then sketch or create models of the heart, eye, and other major organs of the body
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in European history and the Protestant Reformation; have students read and discuss Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses”; another good reference is Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 67.
Colonial Trading with England
History: Assign each student a colony from the original thirteen colonies; they should research the area where it was located, what crops were grown, what groups of people lived there, etc.; learn about mercantilism between England and the colonies; assign the leader of each colony to individual students and have them write a report and then give an oral presentation to the class.
Natural History: Discuss and bring examples of the types
of crops grown during this time period (examples: tobacco, cotton, indigo, and wood products). Grammar/Composition: After discussion, have students write a comparison paper on the use of various crops in commerce in that time period and how they are used today.
Parliament Acts Unjustly
History: Research the Boston Tea Party, identifying the source of the trouble, how the colonists handled the conflict, etc. Some resources include Johnny Tremain and Bauer’s The Story of the World.
Natural History: Study sugar, bring in examples of sugar cane, and discuss the importance of sugar to the colonies; discuss and bring in examples of different types of tea; grow your own tea plants in the classroom. (This can be done by going to your local nursery to buy Chamomile or other types of plants.)
Drama: Act out the story of the Boston Tea Party, incorporating various elements of the story that have been studied.
Black Leadership Emerges in the South
Literature: Read and discuss biographies of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Natural History: Study, illustrate, and identify the parts of the peanut and peanut plant; grow peanuts and research all the uses of peanuts; make peanut butter from peanuts and then use it to bake peanut butter cookies.
Natural History: Research Carver’s findings on crop rotation and their economic significance; name the uses of peanuts; have students dissect a peanut and show visuals of the stages of growth of the peanut.
Art: Have students make drawings of the various stages of growth of the peanut.
World War II
Literature: Read and discuss the events leading up to and during this war time with highlights on Adolf Hitler; America entering the war; and the persecution of the Jewish people (novel suggestions: Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, Number the Stars, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas); research accounts of Pearl Harbor, identifying why and when the US entered the war.
Natural History: Study and research Victory Gardens and their purpose during war time; plant your own Victory Garden in a plot of land on your campus, in a public park (with permission from your local authorities), or in a window box garden; identify the various styles of airplanes used by the Allies as well as their enemies using pictures of the planes. Composition and Grammar: Have students write a paper on what they would do if there was a surprise attack on America today and how it would change their lives.
Economics: Research our standards of living compared to
other countries; study our greatest exports and what imports we are dependent upon; after identifying our strengths as
a nation, take time to identify the weakness of America and discuss how we need a Savior who forgives and is gracious to us. (For example, the passage in Matthew 6 about storing up treasures on earth could be studied in conjunction with what Americans (or other countries) most value. How do the strengths/weaknesses of our country relate to what God considers a strength/weakness?)
Natural History: As a leader in today’s world of medicine, research plants used for medicinal purposes and investigate which ones would grow in your classroom; have students grow these plants and observe the growth.
Math: Record and journal the growth of the plants in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs using the data. Art: Make scientific sketches of the plants and label the parts used for medicine.
We hope these few examples will be a helpful resource for you as you plan projects for your class. All of them can be modified or expanded in order to meet the needs of your students as you bring your curriculum alive and seek to integrate it in meaningful ways.