Greetings from Malindi’s Journey: The Forbidden City!
Three Important Words…
Students of the Mission Hill School added three new words to their vocabulary: Chang jing ly, twiga and zurafa. These words mean giraffe in Chinese, Swahili and Arabic! And, they used three critical thinking concepts when considering the geographic territory of Malindi’s story, i.e., to question, to listen, and to observe.
The core of my planning and teaching with young learners is creating an organic balance between the skills and knowledge essential to learning, and leveraging the natural curiosity and sense of discovery present in this age group. During Family Night at Mission Hill School, I prepped the session by asking:
…how best can I affirm the academic knowledge students have already learned?
…how best can I scaffold the curriculum in a way that is respectful of a range of learners?
Family Nights at Mission Hill School give parents a glimpse in to the learning that is going on with their children. I also have the privilege of getting better acquainted with students and parents through Family Nights. In the February meeting, I took the opportunity to do some informal pre-assessment of the students by posing some questions. I first asked, “What have you learned about ancient China?” This achieves two purposes, i.e., discerning what the students have learned to date, and helping me to choose the information supporting their continued learning. The second question, “What words do you think are important for other people to know about ancient China?”, is a great segue in to the first words for our project’s Forbidden City Word Wall. The last question, “What questions do you have related to the Forbidden City?” uses the student’s innate curiosity to spur further learning. This was evident by just a few questions the students asked: “What was in the Forbidden City? Why were the walls so high? Why was there a moat? What materials did they use to build it?” All great questions and we were well on our way!
I focused on creating an infrastructure that encouraged mixed-age group learners to work, create, and learn together. Students range in ages from five to eleven years old. Each group has the opportunity to work in the space for about forty-five minutes. The students have many rich and varied experiences by building, creating cooperatively, asking questions, and problem solving together. Mathematical concepts are always embedded into the building process. I begin the approach to mathematics through related literacy. Students travel through a corridor to get to the building space which is flanked on one side by their “Word Wall”, and on the other side by the mural of the “Nine Dragon Wall”. This enticing configuration introduces geography, historical figures, and elements of the story before entering the building space. As students and I approach Mission Hill’s Forbidden City room, we are learning from both Walls while I am telling the story of Malindi’s Journey to China.
After entering the construction space of Mission Hill’s “Forbidden City”, we begin with a shared reading of Forbidden City, a poem by Nikki Grimes from her book Tai Chi Morning: Snapshots of China. We follow this with a ‘mindfulness’ minute of thoughtful reflection and breathing. Students have an opportunity to work on the construction of the city model each time they enter the room. While students are building, they also ask questions of each other, such as How do you think we can….? They are constantly working out theories, solving constructions problems, and working together. In one instance, a cooperative group discussion focused on which blocks should be used for the outer walls and the inner walls.
As they are building, I listen, observe, and take notes. Mission Hill students have rich and extensive experience building, ask excellent questions, and are creative problem solvers. They try out different theories and are comfortable figuring things out together. The younger students offer suggestions while the older students guide younger students to solve problems. The workshop ends with my reading aloud The Great Voyages of Zheng He by Song Nan Zhang and Hao Yu Zhang. Time is given to reflect on this relevant work. Once they return to their classrooms, the learning and excitement continues as pairs of students read Malindi’s Journey by Alicia Carroll and Lucy Montgomery.
The Forbidden City Project brings world history to life for Mission Hill School students. Many of us are familiar with the Silk Road trading system that stretches overland from China to Europe. Teachers in the United States are less familiar with the city-states and ancient trade routes that crisscrossed the Indian Ocean linking ports on the Swahili coast with ports on the Arabian Peninsula, India, Sri Lanka and China. Our story begins at Malindi, one of the city states that punctuated the Swahili coast stretching from Mogadishu in present day Somalia, to Sofala in Mozambique. Malindi was an independent city-state. Its history stretches back in time first as a bustling port. Its trade connections spanned the Indian Ocean and extended ultimately to China. This project has taken an important and significant piece of history and created a story to enhance global and trans-disciplinary learning. In my book, I have named the giraffe at the heart of this story Malindi as a reminder of its place of origin. To find out more about this period in the China/ Swahili coast connection, there are two books that treat the topic very well;When China Ruled the Seas by Louise Levathes, and Arab Seafaring by George F. Hourani.
Thanks to the efforts of two project advisors, Dr. Atman Omar Lali, Academic Director, School for International Training, Mombasa, Kenya; and Dr. Barbara Brown, Director of Africa Outreach Program, Boston University, Malindi’s Journey: The Forbidden City has connected with two schools in Malindi, Kenya. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Mariam Alwy at Silversands Academy and Allan Yaa at Malindi Town Primary School. They will be following our blog with their students.
Until the next update,