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posted: Tue, Nov 29th, 2016

Learning about the first Thanksgiving

Eshaal Aziz creates her Native American headdress

Thanksgiving came to Sandshore on a Tuesday this year. Wearing paper Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses they had crafted themselves, first-graders sat down to a Thanksgiving feast prepared by the class mothers and fathers.

The first grade's annual celebration of the holiday on the day preceding the Thanksgiving recess began five or six years ago. While there's no official measure on when a repeated holiday activity becomes a tradition, half a decade feels about right. 

All the standard fare was served up during the first grade celebration, which lasted far less than the three days of feasting and festivity nearly 400 years ago.

"The students loved getting together with their friends and pretending they were part of that era," said teacher Carmella Ciccarella. "Every year the class mothers and fathers work so hard to make it a memorable event."

The classes did a variety of activities leading up to the reenactment of the Pilgrim's celebration giving thanks for the first successful harvest in their new home. Mrs. Ciccarella's class, for example, learned not only the story of the Pilgrims and the hardships they faced, but also a history of the holiday itself. Reading several books provided much of the background, including "Thanksgiving is..." by Gail Gibbons and "Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation" by Diane Stanley. 

Students were surprised to learn during their lesson that the foods prepared prepared in 1620 differed greatly from the ones we now associate with the last Thursday in November. Original accounts list water fowl (ducks and geese), venison, and corn were on the menu, and there is some indication that wild turkey may have been dished up too. Historians suggest that fish, shellfish, beans, fruit, and berries were probably eaten as well. Cranberry sauce, however, was almost certainly not.

And if pumpkin pie was there, it was far different from the smooth, sweet, pastry-crusted treat that has become the unofficial Thanksgiving Day dessert. Sugar at that time was an expensive and precious commodity (which probably means there were no Starbucks' pumpkin spiced lattes to be found in Plymouth, though the historical accounts may have just been lost).

Saaket Kulkarni and Marcello D'Amico try to work out an agreement

Just and equal laws

Elizabeth Zeier couldn't be happier with the deal she makes

Before landing, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower agreed in writing to create "just and equal Laws" in their settlement that would work "for the general good of the Colony." Right before the school district's Thanksgiving recess, Sandshore fifth-graders learned about the importance of this document, known as the Mayflower Compact, through an exercise that showed them the impact of unjust laws.

Students representing citizens in a colony were given disproportionate quantities and qualities of candy based on a set of "laws" created by a leader some distance away. Some students had various bars of chocolate while the vast majority had only small bags of Skittles. After distribution, the kids were arbitrarily assigned an odd or even number correlating to their status in the community and given five minutes to barter with each other based on their new position.  

The result was a chaotic and often frustrating social struggle that left those citizens who were "poor" and "powerless" feeling victimized by the laws that formed the very foundation of their colony. 

"The kids came to understand just how important the Mayflower Compact was," said fifth-grade teacher Tricia Mitchell. "The activity brought to light the need for an agreement that would promote the betterment of the colony while addressing the problems at hand with immediacy. There were many hardships faced by the Pilgrims, and weathering them underscored the importance of cooperation, adaptation, perseverance, and resolution."

To conclude the study of the holiday, the students designed their own Thanksgiving floats and balloons that depicted the enduring concepts such as freedom and partnership that Thanksgiving represents. Then each student used persuasive writing skills to a draft letter to the CEO of Macy's, arguing why his or her project should be included in the store's annual parade.

Celebrating their independence!

Liam Shelton, a third-grader in Darcy McHale's class, organizes his notes

Red, white, and blue were recently on display in second grade classrooms in honor of Independence Day. No, it wasn't a very late/very early celebration of the 4th of July. Students were celebrating being independent self-directed learners by engaging in projects that allowed them to pick their activities and work on them with minimal teacher direction. It was a day that focused the students on the control they have of
 their own learning and
 developed critical thinking skills, creativity, leadership, and the interpersonal
 skills needed to work well with others.

Since November is election month, the second grade teachers focused Independence Day on voting. Three separate activity stations were set up in each classroom (color-coded either red, blue, or white for easy identification) and students spent the day completing the various independent projects until they had finished all nine.

At one work center, for example, students pretended they were running for president and wrote essays and drew posters for their campaigns. At another, students read books about voting and elections and then used computers to create word clouds with relevant vocabulary words. Throughout the day, the second-graders could work alone or with partners.

All the grades (1-5) engaged in Independence Day activities of different types. Fifth-graders researched field trips based on the curriculum and pitched their ideas to their peers who voted on the best trips.

Fourth-graders explored immigration and created games such as computer-based games, board games, and card games that related to the topic.

Third-graders researched endangered animals of their choosing and developed informational posters or reports that explained why the animals were endangered and what could be done to save them.

First-graders explored the concept of buoyancy in a hands-on STEM project in which they designed and created boats to test out what they had learned.

“The common theme throughout the grades for Independence Day was to provide a structure and set the boundaries for the learning," said Nicole Musarra, school principal. "By giving students options and choices within that framework, we encouraged them to make decisions and to be independent. Those are key qualities of successful learners.

All four elementary schools held Independence Day on the same day, but recognized it in different ways. Mount Olive High School and Mount Olive Middle School held their own Independence Day about two weeks later.

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Sandshore School
498 Sandshore Rd Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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