Greater Homewood News:

Theme-Based Education at GreenMount School

by Laurel Durenberger

Knees bent, arms raised, the children sway to the side, moving together as they practice the swimming dragon, a public qi-gong exercise designed to re-channel the flow of energy. "Zhongguo: A Study of China" was the theme at the Greenmount School for the past nine weeks. The curriculum of the small private school in the Hampden/Remington area integrates all subject areas through a theme-based, interdisciplinary educational program, with an emphasis on hands-on learning. Director Michael Chalupa says, "We want to capture the imagination of our children and teach them to love learning. Our curriculum is designed to make sense of our lives and our world."

As a part of this theme, students investigated Chinese art, cuisine, geography, music, language, writing, dynasties, film, medicine, literature, folktales, religion, inventions, politics, festivals, government, architecture, and philosophy. They experienced, explored and discussed ancient and modern China. From practicing Tai Chi to creating their own folktales, students learned what defines Chinese culture, both past and present.

Dr. Iris Davis, giving a presentation on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), told students about the origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine and explained practices based on the recognition of an inner energy known as Qi. Describing the use of herbal remedies, she asked students to consider how TCM compares with what they knew about Western medicine. She also asked students to examine the make-up of their alchemy and analyze their own blends of wood, metal, fire, water and earth. After class, a few volunteers stayed behind and allowed Dr. Davis to attach needlelike suction cups to their skin. Others stuck out their tongues, as directed. "She looked at my tongue and told me I had a backache," says 8th-grader Jessica Briggs. "And it's true!"

Theme activities and projects have been adapted to varying skills and abilities of the students, grades one through eight. First and second graders presented a reader's theater and publications on "Blazing a Trail Through China." Third and fourth graders examined Chinese folktales and wrote their own for an oral presentation. Fifth and sixth graders studied the landscape and beauty of China and created relief maps using materials such as rice, toothpicks and salt. After experiencing creating shan-shui paintings, Chinese calligraphy, and dragons, seventh and eighth graders developed an illustrated essay combining their words and art.

In addition to classroom activities, the "Zhongguo" unit featured field trips including a trip to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, a meal in a Chinese restaurant where students demonstrated their newly acquired skill with chopsticks, an excursion to a Buddhist temple, and trips to the Freer and Sackler Asian Art collections. Greenmount also sponsored community events in conjunction with the study of China, including a public presentation by storyteller and writer Linda Fang and a culminating event that transformed the school into a China exposition.

The latter was a showcase of interactive displays and presentations allowing students to share the knowledge they had gained. The China exposition included 20 exhibits ranging from an art-making table featuring calligraphy and pictographs and kites to "A Table of the Dynasties." Students prepared food for the event, using authentic ingredients and traditional Chinese recipes. The exposition ended with a presentation and dance of the Chinese dragon created by the seventh and eighth graders to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

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This story was published on February 6, 2002.