Academic journal article Childhood Education

Let the Fun Begin! Dynamic Social Studies for the Elementary School Classroom

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Let the Fun Begin! Dynamic Social Studies for the Elementary School Classroom

Article excerpt

Mrs. Holzwarth's 4th-graders in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, were about to wind up a thematic unit on their state when Naisha brought in a newspaper story about the state of Maryland having recently adopted the monarch butterfly as the state insect. The idea of a state insect captured the students' interest and provoked them to ask whether Pennsylvania also had a state insect. That was all it took to launch Mrs. Holzwarth's class on one of the most rewarding social studies learning adventures it had ever tackled.

The students began the process by looking up information about Pennsylvania in various books and pamphlets; they learned that Pennsylvania had a state flower, a state song, a state tree, a state nickname, and various other official state symbols, but no official "state bug." At first they wanted to write to the President of the United States to have him declare a state bug. After Mrs. Holzwarth explained that it was a state matter, they directed their efforts to their district legislator in Harrisburg (the state capital).

Before they did so, however, the children decided to conduct their own democratic election to determine what the state insect should be. Several insects were nominated; each nominee became the subject of careful study. The students explored the pros and cons of such bugs as the praying mantis, dragonfly, ladybug, and grasshopper. After weighing the merits of each, a class vote settled the matter. The firefly emerged as their clear choice. The major reason for their selection seemed to be that the scientific name of one firefly species, Photuris pennsylvanica, closely resembled the name of their state--Pennsylvania. The children also liked the fact that summer evenings sparkled with the soft glow of hundreds of these insects; Mrs. Holzwarth's youngsters spent many a summer night catching "lightning bugs." (The children had been taught that to catch a firefly and let it walk over their hands for a while is "okay," but to hurt the insect in any way is wrong.)

After the children voted for the firefly as their choice for state insect, they approached their district legislator with their proposal for a state insect. The lawmaker was impressed by the children's enthusiasm toward their special project, and subsequently visited Mrs. Holzwarth's classroom. The legislator discussed the process of introducing a bill to the state legislature and advised the students about how to proceed. The children learned that their next step would be to persuade other legislators to support their cause. Undaunted, the 26 children in the class wrote more than 250 letters--203 to the House, 50 to the Senate, and 2 to the governor and his wife. The children also learned that they needed support from voters in their area, and so they circulated a petition and obtained more than 2,000 signatures.

To interest others in their work, the students printed over 600 luminous bumper stickers prod aiming "Firefly for State Insect." They also kept up their letter-writing campaign, asking legislators to vote "yes" when the bill was introduced. The children were invited to Harrisburg for the committee hearings on their bill. They traveled to the state capital on a bus decorated with banners, singing a song they wrote especially for the occasion:

   Oh firefly! Oh firefly!
   Please be our state bug.
   Photuris pennsylvanica,
   You'll fly forever above.
   Oh firefly! Oh firefly!
   You light up so bright.
   It's fun to see such a pretty sight.
   Oh firefly! Oh firefly!

Imagine the children's excitement as they arrived in the state capital and were met by television crews and reporters from the major newspaper wire services. The hearing itself followed standard protocol; the children testified about fireflies for about two hours. The committee reported its unanimous support of the bill to the State House of Representatives, and the bill eventually passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 156 to 22. …

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