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Bringing Social Studies to the Real World with Cross-Disciplinary Exploration 
Chandler Hartnett

In fourth grade, the focus of the social studies curriculum is on the people, places, and historical eras of California. Throughout the year, these young learners approach the various topics from a multitude of perspectives, learn through a variety of mediums, and engage with the content and our state in a plethora of ways. One of the ways students learn about the regions of our state is through experiencing firsthand the biological and geographical diversity of Santa Barbara. 

Students spend the first few weeks of school developing a strong understanding of the different regions of California through readings, projects, group work, debates, presentations, and other in-class activities. They then round out their foundational understanding by getting their knees dirty in Crane’s garden, planting flowers, moving succulents to new beds, and gazing up at the redwood tree. 

Armed with a knowledge of some of the ways geography shapes communities and impacts the natural world, the students embark on a cross-disciplinary exploration of a unique, nearby ecosystem. Led by their art, physical education, and fourth grade teachers, students take an afternoon trip to a local trail system. This field trip, which combines teacher-guided artistic sketching with hiking and opportunities for outdoor exploration and reflection, provides students with an opportunity to see firsthand the concepts they have read about and discussed in class.

This field trip is a fall highlight for many students. They excitedly note different flora and fauna, sketch cactus, hike with their peers, and look out over their community. Students are able to see different landforms, note road and neighborhood patterns, look down on their favorite beaches and parks, and get a better sense of how their community is laid out. They then return to the classroom buzzing with excitement and eager to share their observations. 

Experiences which allow students to see the concepts they learn in school play out in the real world, not only pique their interest but also give students multiple avenues upon which to develop and display their understanding.

Besides, who doesn’t want to hike with their physical education teacher, sketch in the field with their art teacher, gaze out onto their community with their social studies teacher, and make those lasting memories with their peers!?!

Chandler Hartnett  
Fourth Grade Teacher


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