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Lesson: The Ultimate Road Trip

Lesson: The Ultimate Road Trip

Budget-conscious road-trippers like the ones pictured above often ask questions like, "Can we sleep in the car and eat peanut-butter sandwiches for each meal?" and "Are we allowed to win additional money by playing blackjack in Las Vegas?"

By Susan Ade Potenza, Teaching PreK-8

This two-week unit gives sixth graders practice in real-world geography, science, math and more.

Close your eyes and imagine…your students come into your room already engaged in a project. They’re working with a partner on a common goal. Excitement and anticipation are written all over their faces.

This delightful scenario is a reality at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Atlanta, GA. For the past three years, our sixth grade students have participated in a highly successful interdisciplinary unit called “Across the USA.”

Normally, our sixth graders change classes on a daily rotating schedule. During this two-week unit, however, the regular curriculum is temporarily stopped, while the students are given new goals for social studies, math, English, science, French, Spanish, music, art and religion.

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Rules of the road. Students are put into partnerships based on their ability to work together. These pairs of students will “travel” by car from point A to point B in the continental United States. At the end of the unit, students will create a display that features all of the information gathered during their “journey;” i.e. their route, budget, postcards, trip diaries, graphs, etc. These boards are set up like a social studies fair for the rest of the student body, parents and administrators to admire.

Our teachers plan the routes ahead of time. Each route is approximately the same length in miles, and passes through major cities, towns, national parks, historical places and other areas of interest.

Setting goals. While on their trip, students must meet goals set by the teachers of each content area. For social studies, the goals include planning a route on existing roads, using current maps. The partners must also decide how far to travel each day and where they will stop.

For math, students must create and maintain a daily budget. Each team is given an allowance of $2,500 for food, gas, lodging, attractions, emergencies and miscellaneous expenses. On Day Four of the unit, a “problem” is thrown their way, which forces them to spend money and time not previously budgeted. An example of a problem would be: “You have a flat tire. You go to put on the spare and see that it is also flat. What would you do? How much money do you have to spend? How much time is wasted?”

For English, students create two illustrated tri-fold state brochures filled with information gathered during research. They keep a nightly journal for the two weeks of the unit and are asked to illustrate five of the journal entries. They also write two poems about their “trip.”

For the science requirement, students develop three graphs: distance traveled each day, average speed each day and fuel used each day.

In French and Spanish, students create illustrated postcards of places they visited, written in the language they’re studying.

The goals in music include finding a symphony or musician from the area traveled through, i.e. Elvis Presley from Memphis, TN. Students can identify the state song or a landmark that has had a song written about it.

The art teacher asks students to find museums and any type of art or artist specific to an area, i.e. Native American art of the Southwest.

The religion goal involves finding the prominent religion of the area. For example, in Salt Lake City, UT, the Mormon faith is notable.

All the information collected during the unit from the various subject areas is included on the final display boards.

Resources and guidance. At the beginning of the unit, when students are doing a lot of research, we keep our library and computer lab open all day. The computer lab teacher has created a list of web addresses for all the states. Near the end of the unit, our art lab is open most of the day so students can access art supplies and get help with their final displays.

The teachers start planning the unit at least six months in advance. One of us acts as Chairperson, coordinating his or her fellow teachers and ordering supplies. Each teacher must decide what the “goals” for his or her subject will be. These goals must coordinate with the purpose of the unit and with the national standards. Discussing the purpose of the unit strengthens understanding between teachers and is a lot of fun, too.

Evaluating growth. An evaluation rubric is attached to the back of each display board. Each teacher uses a scale of 1-10 to evaluate the following: (1) Completed goals and expectations for subject area; (2) Worked cooperatively with partner; (3) Showed enthusiasm for project; (4) Display Board: accuracy, neatness, attention to details and (5) Display Board: creativity, use of colors and 3-D items.

We don’t assign a letter grade to this project and the evaluation isn’t averaged into the students’ final grade. Instead, we tell the students that this is where we (and they) learn about them as emerging adults. Did they contribute equally to the project? Were they a positive influence within their partnership? What have they learned about themselves? The assessment rubric is sent home with students’ progress reports. Our hope is that parents might see their children in a different light, and that conversations about cooperation and effort might start at the dinner table.

“Across the USA” is a “win-win” project. Not only do the students work cooperatively, but so do the teachers. The students are challenged, and connections to the “real world” are numerous. Best of all, the level of excitement is high, and that’s a big part of what education is about.

For an extensive, state-by-state list of websites to use with this unit click here and for a list of the national standards this unit covers click here.

Courtesy of © 2007, YellowBrix, Inc.

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