Faraway disasters close to class

Crestwood Elementary School students felt the aftershocks of the earthquake in China and the impact of the cyclone in Myanmar through a social-studies project in teacher Leslie Marshall’s sixth-grade class.

Crestwood Elementary School students felt the aftershocks of the earthquake in China and the impact of the cyclone in Myanmar through a social-studies project in teacher Leslie Marshall’s sixth-grade class.

The class divvied up into 10 groups on Jan. 29 and worked on discovering which 10 mystery cities they would be getting clues about all over the world. One of the cities students learned about over the course of four months (the project ended May 2 when the mystery cities were revealed) was Chengdu, China, which is not far from the epicenter of the recent earthquake.

After students discovered this, they connected via e-mail with a pair of local sixth-graders who are attending an international school in Chengdu.

On the morning of May 19, the Crestwood students arrived at school, wanting to find out if their friends in Chengdu were okay. Marshall said she received a reply within a few hours.

“The girl who is a student there told us that they don’t do drills (in China) like we do here, so when the earthquake hit, the children just all ran out in the streets,” Marshall said.

And last year, one of the mystery cities her class studied was in Myanmar.

“We had gotten a message from our group in Myanmar recently,” she said. “We looked at the school (on Google Earth) and now it’s gone.”

Marshall’s students arrived at school the following Monday after discussing what had happened in Myanmar to the news of the earthquake in China.

“It was weird, because we had just talked about that,” Marshall said. “So we just talked about the frailty of life and how it’s just kind of weird to think that, like us, they had a school a year ago, a roof over their heads, and now it’s gone.”

This brings home the whole purpose of the project, Marshall said, which is to bring learning about the world to life and go beyond the pages of their social studies text books.

“The basics were just learning that even the world tilts and it rotates, so when we’re having daylight on one side, someone else is having night time,” Marshall said. “I try to tie it into current events. We talked about gas prices here and what are gas prices in Beijing. We tried to tie it into what’s going on here, to understand how the world moves and operates.”

Back at the start of the project this year, Marshall said, the first four weeks students only got information about sunrise and sunset in the 10 mystery cities. Then they slowly got geography based clues that they could look up online from people in the mystery cities.

Austin Owens, one of Marshall’s students, said that some of the clues really stumped him and his classmates.

“The Rothera Research Station in Antarctica. They formed a band with people (there) who played an instrument,” Owens said. “It was pretty cool. I think somebody even had a cello. They had it on the Internet so a bunch of people were able to see it. That was one of our clues but we had no idea what it meant.”

When they started looking for information on “a performance that had an audience of 17 but was seen by millions,” the first thing Owens said popped up on Google was the Van Halen reunion show.

They also got clues about Kuwait City in Kuwait.

“It’s really close to Iraq and we thought it was a driven-down kind of place, war torn,” Owens said. “When we saw the pictures (of Kuwait), it looked like Hawaii, like the kind of place you would want to go on vacation. They even had a Hard Rock Cafe.”

Owens said he enjoyed solving the puzzle and figuring out where the mystery cities were located.

“We did use Google Earth a lot,” he said. “We probably used that the most for our information. At the end, we did a powerpoint with a bunch of the information on the mystery cities and we sent them to other schools.”

Madi Rule and Sarah Medina were learning about Chengdu, but one of the clues led them to believe they were learning about Beijing.

“My favorite part was actually learning about the place when they sent the geography clues,” Rule said. “We actually thought it was Bejing because we got a clue that there we going to be a summer event there. So that was the first thing that popped into my head.”

China is a huge country, so once theh narrowed it down to that part of the world, Rule and Medina said, their group still had a challenge in front of them.

“Figuring out where in China it was going to be was tough because it could be anywhere in China,” Medina said. “I think there’s a lot of breeding centers for pandas in China. We learned a lot of stuff about China which I think is really cool. And being able to talk to someone who usually lives here in the United States but right now lives in China … that’s really cool.”

This is what Marshall was aiming for when she started the project three years ago and she’s pleased that the kids are connecting to the big picture.

“It’s a global view of the world and life is going on outside of our little corner of it,” she said. “It’s easy to forget that. It’s been a good discussion starter to talk about how they feel. Just studying them, it makes us feel like we’re connected. We call them our mystery friends.”

Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and khill@reporternewspapers.com