Africa and the World of Music

This morning the 6th grade had a lesson with a visiting musician/teacher. Ali Richardson, a Philadelphia-based guitarist who plays and specializes in blues, jazz, and world music, spoke about and demonstrated the influences of African music on American music. Ali brought his guitar and had students join in some movements and song. His visit furthered our understanding about how Africa has influenced cultures around the world. 

Storytelling: The Legend of Ouagadou-Bida

On Thursday and Friday the 6th grade welcomed professional storyteller Robb Dimmick into our classrooms. As part of their study of Ancient Ghana, students are learning about the role of griots in African culture, as well as the specific story, the "Legend of the Ouagadou-Bida." Students are also writing their own stories about their respective imaginary countries as one way of knowing. We will also be learning about other ways of knowing throughout the year.

The ability to internalize a story, make it your own, and tell it orally in an interesting and compelling way has intrinsic value. Additionally, students are building towards the ability to tell their own personal stories in a public way later in the year. We are using the "Legend of the Ouagadou-Bida" and the work we are doing with Robb as an opportunity to develop the attitude, courage, and skills they will need to do this. We want to students to find and use their voices as storytellers.

Their study and training culminated with dramatic performances of the story to TPS students in preschool and in first and second grades.

Creative Africa

On Friday the sixth grade walked along the Schuylkill Banks to the Philadelphia Art Museum to see the recently opened exhibit Creative Africa. The exhibit's celebration of African art and culture featured a mix of centuries-old artifacts and innovative photography, fashion, and architecture.

The timing of the exhibit couldn't have been more perfect as the class's year-long study of Africa comes to an end,. The combination of traditional and innovative art was powerful.

Spotlights on Africa

Since January, the 6th grade has been investigating the question, "How do others define us?" Throughout the winter months, students have been spotlighting various African countries and learning about their histories, struggles, triumphs, and modern events. A throughline, or overarching concept, in our curriculum is that there are multiple ways of knowing. To reinforce and demonstrate this idea, we interview experts on the topics we study. We have been very lucky this year to bring in new people and perspectives into our class this year.

After returning from winter break, we looked at humanitarian organizations and their influence on African communities. We began by spotlighting missionary work in Ethiopia.

Reflections on My Summer Teacher Fellowship

by Jess Ford, 6th grade teacher

This summer I spent three weeks traveling and learning in East Africa. My goal was to bring back newly gained knowledge and insight to the 6th grade curriculum, where we study Africa throughout the entire school year. I had the opportunity to travel with high school students from Washington, DC, spending one week in Tanzania and two weeks in Rwanda. The goals of the trip were to learn, listen, and collect stories so that we can have a better understanding of the diverse continent. 

Something that the 6th grade team has struggled with in teaching our African curriculum is that we have been "outsiders": three white Americans. We have done our best to deliver an authentic experience for our students, and although this trip could never make me an insider, it provided first-hand knowledge that will better equip me to teach our Africa curriculum.

I had countless opportunities to learn from native people, whom I interviewed about their country, life, and history.