Country School 5th Graders replicated the journey of three fictional refugees from Refugee by Alan Gratz with their own family members as the culmination of their STEAM unit "Wet Feet, Dry Feet."
Refugee braids together the stories of three children: Josef a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany, Isabel a Cuban girl in 1994, and Mahmoud a Syrian boy in 2015. All three endured harrowing journeys in search of refuge, and probably like the 5th Graders’ guests, traveled from stopping point to stopping point using only the aid of the moon.
A true collaborative STEAM unit, "Wet Feet, Dry Feet" brought together science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math to make learning meaningful.
In science students revisited reasons why a traveler would veer off course (landforms, bodies of water, dangers/hazards, currents, weather). They researched the Gulf Stream and how water currents played a role in the refugees’ journeys, and they applied their knowledge of orienteering, cardinal points, and maps to accurately recreate the refugees’ journeys on the The Country School’s campus.
The 5th Graders incorporated technology into this unit in myriad ways beginning with researching the refugees’ homelands, the government of the time period linked to each child, and the conflicts that caused them to flee their homelands in the first place. The students viewed images and videos related to each refugee’s home country, time period, and culture; and used Google maps to retrace the characters’ journeys.
The students brought math and engineering together as they created their story walks. Planning required them to determine the approximate mileage/kilometers of each refugee’s journey, and using ratio and proportion, the 5th Graders developed authentic scales to map out each refugee’s journey. The 5th Graders established reference points for length of a yard and the length of a stride, and they created a ratio of miles to strides and estimated distances. No journey is complete without a passport, so the students designed those as well, a perfect segue into the arts component of "Wet Feet, Dry Feet."
Employing both language and visual arts, students retold a passage from Josef’s, Isabel’s, and Mahmoud’s journeys. After being introduced to propaganda in the art studio, students created propaganda posters authentic to the time period, collaged large cut-out maps that described each refugees homeland, and finally created a collage of words linked to the meaning of "refugee" and their fight for safety.
Bringing disciplines together through STEAM units like "Wet Feet, Dry Feet" allows students to make connections and to gain a deeper sense of their learning. Beyond academics, STEAM units demand that students collaborate, experiment, problem-solve, and apply their knowledge–all skills that will serve them well as they continue their lifelong educational journey.