From pyramids to drinking gourds

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A team of 6th-graders at Kershaw Elementary—(from left) Sheena Hampton, Armitha Williams, Kenosha Polk and Marissa Wright—build a model pyramid in the school library. More than geometry, the project is part of a multimedia lesson on ancient Egypt that librarian Toby Rajput uses to bolster the 6th-grade history curriculum.

Rajput divides students into three groups, then shows each group a video of a different aspect of ancient Egypt: mummies, pyramids and hieroglyphs. The groups create their own replicas, using materials borrowed from the Field Museum. Then, each student writes a report on the group’s topic; Rajput helps them navigate the library’s reference section. The lesson culminates in a Jeopardy-style quiz that pits classmates against each other.

Rajput has long integrated arts into story reading but says that a Gallery 37 teacher workshop she attended last summer recharged her creativity. “Meeting with the other teachers was a real benefit,” she says.

This spring, Rajput will present a lesson on slavery that she developed at the workshop. The lesson features a simple artifact of significant but little-known importance: a drinking gourd. Rajput’s lesson on the Underground Railroad begins with an old song with a mysterious chorus: “Follow the drinking gourd.” She will have students sing the song, then learn its deeper meaning: The “drinking gourd” is the Big Dipper, and the song cryptically describes slaves’ route to freedom. Rajput will round out the lesson by showing students a real drinking gourd and maps, and lead them through stories and mini-history lessons.