CNU students made connections with local schoolchildren through The American Worldview, an Honors seminar taught by Dr. Andrew Falk (pictured below), Associate Professor of History. His course introduces the contemporary world from an American historical perspective, encouraging students to use history to develop personal worldviews and make sense of the world around them as citizens of the United States and global community.
The seminar helps them make a lasting impact during their time at CNU. They do so by applying what they learn in class to an “Americans Meet the World” book project. This initiative began when Falk and his wife, Kristen, librarian at Yorktown Elementary School (YES), realized they share similar goals. The book project supports two initiatives of the York County School Division: the new cultural geography curriculum for fifth-graders and the transformative learning pedagogy.
Part of the YES social studies curriculum, cultural geography encourages elementary-age children to connect with the global community, understanding interdependence, migration, multiculturalism and other concepts. “I wanted CNU Honors students to do much the same,” Falk says. Then through transformative learning, students commit fully to their work by producing something valued outside the classroom.
Falk’s class completed individual research papers and conducted significant background work to translate their topics into stories for fifth-graders to show the ways Americans engage the world. According to Falk, “In a sense, we used history as a ‘laboratory’ to understand concepts such as globalization, Americanization and multiculturalism.”
Working in pairs, students met with Falk to plot their books and create the accompanying images. They also developed teaching aids, including historical background notes, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading and in the case of one book, a music CD. Finished works included such titles as Dizzy Makes a Difference (on jazz diplomacy during the Cold War), Henry’s Adventure to the White City (on the 1893 Chicago world’s fair), The Coldest War (on the 1980 “miracle on ice” hockey game) and The Handshake My Father Gave Me (on the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission).
The project challenged the student-authors intellectually and creatively as they transformed their research into books appropriate and entertaining enough for fifth-graders. “I discovered that Honors students, who often express confidence about their work, were pushed out of their comfort zones when asked to produce artwork,” Falk notes.
After reading the books in class, YES teachers worked with their students to summarize and evaluate the stories through letters written to the authors. As Kristen describes it: “In each case — the CNU books and the YES letters — students understood that this wasn’t a typical assignment that was going to stop at a teacher’s desk. It was meaningful because they knew it was going to make an impact on other people in their community.”
One YES student wrote the following note: “I have read your book Nathan’s Journey (about the Lewis and Clark exploration and interaction with Indians). It was wonderful. I have learned that you don’t have to be an adult to explore the world, and that learning things in school helps you on important adventures.”
Falk’s students had no idea they would receive this feedback. “On the last day of the semester, I surprised my students by bringing in the letters the fifth-graders had written to the CNU authors,” he says. “It was amazing to see my students react as the assignment went full circle.”