6th Grade Hands-on, Minds On Learning

By Shelly Jones, 6th Grade Language Arts & Social Studies


Last week, the 6th graders had two unique hands-on, minds-on learning experiences connected to their Language Arts and Social Studies curriculum. The first, cooking okra two different ways, connected to their study of the novel Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. In the novel, a 12-year-old Kentucky coal miner’s son named River and a 12-year-old Indian immigrant in New York City named Meena become pen pals and eventually best friends. The novel is written in a series of revealing letters exploring such topics as environmental activism, immigration and racism. One food they discover a shared love for is okra. Meena’s family prepares it in a stew with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices, while River’s Mamaw batters it in cornmeal and fries it.  

School Garden Coordinator Christine Brinkmann worked with the class to prepare the okra both ways. The students worked in collaborative teams, bringing in the ingredients and preparing the food in stations set up in the classroom. In the spring, we will work with Christine to plant our own okra saved from last year’s seeds. Then next year’s class will be able to harvest and cook the okra grown in our school garden (unfortunately this year’s okra was past its prime). To say the kids loved cooking was an understatement!  I heard from one parent that when her son came home from school, the first thing he asked her is, “Mom, when can we cook some okra?”


Our second hands-on, minds-on learning experience, “Walk A Mile in My Shoes,” gave 6th graders the opportunities to experience life as a refugee. Students had new identities, health histories, skills, ages, and family members assigned before the simulation, and they faced many challenges while “in character” at the event held downtown at Waterfront Park. Together they navigated challenges such as learning a new language, obtaining food and water, filling out paperwork they couldn’t understand, securing food, bartering with few possessions, avoiding random arrest, or being forced to go back to their home countries. The students left the refugee simulation after debriefing, where they shared their thoughts, reflections and new understandings of the challenges faced by millions of refugees around the globe today. A special thanks to the newly-formed Louisville group, Global Commons. They provided this opportunity to 800 Louisville-area students free of charge in order to help bridge local and international communities to help students to think of themselves as global citizens.

After these experiences, the students wrote reflectively about what they learned. I’ll close with a couple of excerpts from their work, which speaks for itself:

“I could not imagine being a refugee. They run miles to get to safety from war. They don’t have the stuff we have, such as a lot of water and a lot of food. They face many challenges. They have to make hard decisions, like should they run from their home and leave everything behind or collect everything and die? They would love everything that we have.”  
Isaiah Green

“Our [mock] family was arrested many times for little reasons, like not being able to read a foreign language. I feel extremely sorry that these refugees have to suffer, so I’m glad that we will help Kentucky Refugee Ministries for our service-learning project. No one should have to go through what Dania [the refugee we learned about in class] did.”
Lily Gilbert

“I learned a lot of things from the simulation that I never realized were true. Now I realize how difficult it is for them to survive with such limited resources and materials.  When I was in the camp, I thought this isn’t so bad, but then I realized people would spend their whole lives inside gates and maybe never be able to leave.  When the refugees finally get out, they usually have very few belongings and they can only hope that they can start their lives over again, which must be a very difficult process to go through.”
Grayson Karleski

“Refugees’ experiences are tough; it’s very hard to trust anyone. If you make it to a different country, it will be hard to understand the language and fill out papers. During the simulation you ALWAYS HAD to have your papers with you or you would be sent to jail. You got to keep one thing to bribe people with if you got into trouble. The experience was hard and meaningful to know what it was like to go on the journey of a refugee fleeing from their country.”
Stevaun Butler