Teaching and Integrating Social Studies - Do Young Learners Broaden their Understanding of Social Studies Concepts Better Through Picture Books or Through Hands-On Activities?

Action Research

Teaching and Integrating Social Studies

Problem Identification:
Do young learners broaden their understanding of Social Studies concepts better through picture books or through hands-on activities? Based on an analysis of the data, what method(s) best enhance Social Studies instruction so that students gain more knowledge and comprehension from a lesson?

Grade level: Kindergarten
General Topics or Themes: St. Patrick’s Day

North Carolina Standard Course of Study:
COMPETENCY GOAL 4: The learner will explain celebrated holidays and special days in communities.
Objectives
4.01 Explore how families express their cultures through celebrations, rituals, and traditions.
4.02 Identify religious and secular symbols associated with famous people, holidays, and specials days of diverse cultures.
4.03 State reasons for observing special, religious, and secular holidays of diverse cultures.

School/Class Background:
Endhaven Elementary School – Suburban area in CMS.
Kindergarten class demographics:
Gender: 23 students: 12 boys and 11 girls.
Age: All students are either 5 or 6 years old.
Race/Ethnicity: 17 Caucasian, 3 Multiracial, 2 Asian, and 1 Hispanic.
Other: Two students receive speech services.
One student goes to resource and occupational therapy.

Hypothesis:
I predicted that Group A (the group who participated in the hands-on activity) would demonstrate significantly more growth and understanding of St. Patrick’s Day concepts than Group B (the group who listened to a picture book about the holiday).

Plan of Action:
I completely implemented this action research project during one afternoon on March 8, 2005. Since it was several days before St. Patrick’s Day, the classroom teacher (Ms. Better) had not yet begun teaching the students about the holiday. Because of this, I had the fortunate opportunity to gauge children’s perceptible knowledge about St. Patrick’s Day before Ms. Better began to teach them about it later that week.
My techniques involved first splitting the kindergarten class into two heterogeneous groups to engage in two separate activities. Then, I asked both sets of children pre-assessment questions before each activity and post-assessment questions after each activity. The pre-assessment questions helped me determine their overall knowledge and understanding of St. Patrick’s Day prior to the activities. I led one group of eleven students (Group A) through a hands-on scavenger hunt. Later, I read a story about St. Patrick’s Day to twelve different students (Group B). After each activity, I administered post-assessments by asking both groups the same ten questions that I had asked them during the pre-assessments. The purpose of both assessments was to determine how much information students from each group gained from their activity.

The instructions for the scavenger hunt were to locate seven large shamrocks hidden throughout the school. Each shamrock had a special word written on it, which related to St. Patrick’s Day. The words included, “holiday,” “green,” “March 17th,” “leprechauns,” “Ireland,” “Luck of the Irish,” and “four-leaf clover.” As students found each shamrock, we discussed the words as a group and engaged in mini-activities related to the words. This helped promote interest and enthusiasm about the topic. When students found the seventh shamrock, their final task was to locate the pot of gold. Once the students were successful in finding the treasure, they enjoyed the gold chocolate candies inside the pot. The children really seemed to enjoy this hands-on activity, while appearing to learn a lot of information about St. Patrick’s Day. After working with Group A, I took them back to their classroom.
Then, I led Group B to the media center for the next portion of this action research project. While reading It’s St. Patrick’s Day to Group B, I asked comprehension questions throughout the story to engage the listeners. After reading the story and administering the post-assessment, I gave all the students in the group shamrock necklaces to wear and decorate with the words, “March 17th.”

Finally, I brought both groups together for snack time where I served green “shamrock juice” to the whole class and let the students finish eating the chocolates from the pot of gold. This was a good conclusion to the afternoon St. Patrick’s Day activities. While the students were enjoying their gold coins and green juice, we talked about what they learned from the activities.

Materials:

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! by Rebecca Gomez
green craft foam
permanent marker
scissors
masking tape
green construction paper & yarn (for shamrock necklaces)
pot (for gold coins)
chocolate gold coins (enough for each student to have one)
green leprechaun hats (enough for each student and teacher)
diluted apple juice & green food coloring (for “shamrock juice”)
cups

Group A:
Scavenger Hunt Procedure:

Ask students pre-assessment questions about St. Patrick’s Day.

Show students my rainbow socks. Explain how they represent the rainbow leading to pot of gold.
Show picture of rainbow and pot of gold.
Explain rules of scavenger hunt.
Show students the “holiday” shamrock. Discuss the term “holiday.”
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover “green” shamrock in the music room.
“Green” shamrock
Discuss traditions and symbolism of the color green.
Ask which students are wearing green. Count the number of students.
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover the “March 17th” shamrock in the office.
Show students March calendar, and talk about how many more days until St. Patrick’s Day.
Pass out shamrock necklaces and markers.
Instruct students to write “March 17” on their shamrocks.
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover the “leprechauns” shamrock in the Media Center.
Use ruler to show how tall leprechauns are believed to be (2 feet).
Pass out green leprechaun hats for students to wear.
Tell students that we are pretending to leprechauns, and we are following the rainbow to the pot of gold!
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover the “Ireland” shamrock in the gym.
Show students stuffed leprechaun with the word “Ireland” on his hat
Compare Irish flag to American flag.
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover the “Luck of the Irish” shamrock in the cafeteria.
Discuss 3 ways to be lucky on St. Patrick’s Day
Read the clue to determine where to find the next shamrock.

Discover the four-leaf clover on the school mailbox.
Read instructions to spend a few minutes searching for a real four-leaf clover in the grass.
Give each student a paper cutout of a four-leaf clover to keep.
Instruct children to search the area for the pot of gold.
When students find the pot of gold, allow them to eat the chocolate coins.

Ask the students post-assessment questions to determine overall level of understanding of St. Patrick’s Day.

Data Collection:
In order to answer my research questions and test my hypothesis, I collected data in the form of field notes and observation records. Both groups’ pre-assessments and post-assessments were tape recorded and later analyzed. The following are samples from the transcripts of the assessments:

Pre-Assessment for Group A
(Scavenger Hunt Group)

Let’s talk about holidays. What holidays have you learned about and celebrated this year?
Students gave the following incorrect answers, “Winter” and “Spring,” followed by the following correct answers, “Valentine’s Day,” “Halloween,” “Christmas,” “Easter,” and “Hanukkah.”

What holiday is coming up next week?
“St. Patrick’s Day.”

What do you know about St. Patrick’s Day?
“We watch St. Patrick’s Day parades on T.V.”

What country did this holiday begin?
(No answer)

What date is St. Patrick’s Day?
(No answer)

What color do people traditionally wear on St. Patrick’s Day?
Three students answered “green,” and two students answered “white,” “brown,” and “blue.

What is a leprechaun?
“A little person who leaves little tracks.”
“A type of cat.”
“A type of elf.”

What special treasure may a leprechaun lead you to? (after hearing answers, show picture of rainbow and pot of gold)
“Rainbow.”
“Gold.”

What is a shamrock? (after hearing answers, show picture of shamrock)
“Shamrock” is another word for “clover.”

There are several things you can do for good luck on St. Patrick’s Day. What are some of these things?
“Find a four-leaf clover.”
“Find gold coins.”
“Find a three-leaf clover.”

Post-Assessment for Group A
(Scavenger Hunt Group)

Let’s talk about holidays. What holidays have you learned about and celebrated this year?
Students answered, “St. Patrick’s Day,” “Christmas,” and “Valentine’s Day.”

What holiday is coming up next week?
One student answered, “Halloween.”
Several other students answered, “St. Patrick’s Day.”

What do you know about St. Patrick’s Day?
“Leprechauns.”
“If you find a leprechaun, it will lead you to the pot of gold.”
“If you find a four leaf clover, you will get really lucky.”

What country did this holiday begin?
“Ireland.”

What date is St. Patrick’s Day?
“March 17th.”

What color do people traditionally wear on St. Patrick’s Day?
“Green.”

What is a leprechaun?
“They look like elves.”
“If you find a leprechaun, it will lead you to the pot of gold.”

What special treasure may a leprechaun lead you to?
“A pot of gold.”

What shape this is? (holding up a picture of shamrock)
One student answered, “heart.”
Another student answered, “clover.” When asked what another word for “clover” is, she answered, “shamrock.”

There are several things you can do for good luck on St. Patrick’s Day. What are some of these things?
“Wear green.”
“Find a four-leaf clover.”
“Catch a leprechaun.”

Pre-Assessment for Group B
(Picture Book Group)

Let’s talk about holidays. What holidays have you learned about and celebrated this year?
Students answered, “Christmas,” “Valentine’s Day,” “Halloween,” and “St. Patrick’s Day.”

What holiday is coming up next week?
One student said “April,” “April Fool’s Day,” and “Father’s Day.”
A second student said, “Easter.”
A third student said, “St. Patrick’s Day!”

What do you know about St. Patrick’s Day?
“We celebrate St. Patrick’s birthday.”
“You’re supposed to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.”

What country did this holiday begin?
(No response)

What date is St. Patrick’s Day?
(No response)

What color do people traditionally wear on St. Patrick’s Day?
“Green.”

What is a leprechaun?
“Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, a leprechaun comes and makes a big mess.”
“Leprechauns are little men with pointy ears.”
“Leprechauns wear green.”
“Leprechauns might eat you.”
“Leprechauns will lead you to a pot of gold.”

What special treasure may a leprechaun lead you to?
“Gold.”

What is a shamrock?
“A shamrock is a rock with little bumps on it.”
“A shamrock is a clover. A clover has four leaves, called a four-leaf clover.”

There are several things you can do for good luck on St. Patrick’s Day. What are some of these things?
“Wear green.”
“Find a four-leaf clover.”
“Look for a rainbow that will lead you to a pot of gold.”

Post-Assessment for Group B
(Picture Book Group)

Let’s talk about holidays. What holidays have you learned about and celebrated this year?
Students answered, “Christmas,” “Easter,” “Thanksgiving,” and “St. Patrick’s Day.”

What holiday is coming up next week?
Many students called out, “St. Patrick’s Day!”

What do you know about St. Patrick’s Day?
“You might get pinched if you’re not wearing green.”
“I saw a leprechaun once on St. Patrick’s Day.”

What country did this holiday begin?
“Irish…Ireland.”

What date is St. Patrick’s Day?
“March 17th”

What color do people traditionally wear on St. Patrick’s Day?
“Green.”

What is a leprechaun?
“A clover.”
“A little man who likes treasures of gold.”

What special treasure may a leprechaun lead you to?
“Pot of gold.”

What is a shamrock?
“A shamrock is a three-leaf clover.”

There are several things you can do for good luck on St. Patrick’s Day. What are some of these things?
“Wear green.”
“Find a four-leaf clover.”
“Catch a leprechaun that will lead you to a pot of gold.”

Analysis of Data:
In comparing the pre-assessments and post-assessments of both groups, my original hypothesis was not supported. The results of the two groups were too similar to be conclusive about which strategy is more effective. Both groups scored roughly a seven out of ten questions correctly on the pre-assessment. These scores suggest that the most students in this study already had a basic understanding of St. Patrick’s Day before participating in the activities.

On the post-assessment, both groups scored eight out of nine questions correctly. These results would suggest that both groups slightly improved on their knowledge level after each activity. However, based on this experiment, it is impossible to declare that one strategy (i.e. scavenger hunt) was more effective than the other (i.e. reading a picture book) in improving the quality of the students’ learning. On average, both strategies appeared to be just as effective in this particular research study.

Plan for Future Action:
Performing this action research study has made me aware the importance of implementing multiple teaching strategies to help students obtain more information. Both participating in hands-on activities and reading picture books can both be extremely valuable methods for teaching about St. Patrick’s Day. Therefore, I would not simply choose one strategy over the other, because they are both effective in reinforcing the concepts. In the future, I would incorporate many different types of activities to benefit a wider range of children.

When planning lessons, such as a lesson about St. Patrick’s Day, it is important for teachers to be aware of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. For instance, depending on the particular child, one student might respond better to a hands-on activity than through listening to a story. Or, another student might learn more from reading or listening to a picture book story.

Every child learns differently. Therefore, teachers must be sensitive to the needs of individual students. Reading and writing limericks would most likely appeal to verbal/linguistic learners. Dressing in costumes and learning traditional folk dances would probably appeal to bodily/kinesthetic learners. A visual/spatial learner would greatly benefit from a Social Studies activity that involved creating illustrations and collages. Interpersonal learners gain a better understanding of a topic through discussions and group projects, while intrapersonal learners prefer observations and reflection journals (Forte & Schurr, 2003).

In order for more children to understand and retain Social Studies concepts, it is essential to provide them with a variety of powerful learning experiences. These learning experiences must be meaningful, challenging, active, integrative, and value-based (Sunal & Haas, 2005).

Group A
References

Dixon, A. (2004). Retrieved February 28, 2005, from http://www.kidsdomain.com/holiday/patrick/history.html
Forte, I. & Schurr, S. (2003). Curriculum & project planner for integrating learning styles, thinking styles, and authentic instruction. Nashville, TN: Incentive Publications.
Gomez, R. (2003). It’s St. Patrick’s Day! New York: Scholastic.
Sunal, C. S., & Haas, M.E. (2005). Social studies for the elementary and middle grades: A constructivist approach (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.