History, Geography Collide with Writing, Art and Math in ‘Around the World’ Exploration

Lilly Vydareny holds the explorer notebook she made for fifth-grade teacher Brett Scheidel’s Journey to the New World lesson

Lilly Vydareny said doing school lessons strictly from books is “sometimes pretty boring.”

So when her fifth-grade class at Lakeside Elementary started an interactive “Journey Around the World” unit to learn about famous explorers, she was pretty excited.

Fifth-grader Diego Marchesi holds a not-so-real 16th century Spanish gold doubloon, sometimes known as pirate currency, which he earned as part of the explorer lesson

“We get to draw pictures, do research, keep ship logs … and I think we learn more, because we do more.”

Teacher Brett Scheidel has been heading up the Journey to the New World lesson for nearly a decade, though he says evolving technology means the class is never the same two years in a row. Lessonsabout explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan are done via books and online research, but also through tasks created by “the king,” a.k.a. Scheidel, and former students.

History and geography meet creative writing, art and even math as the fifth-graders plan their virtual maritime adventures by hiring crews, purchasing supplies, studying maps and writing letters of introduction to kings and queens. Each task completed earns students distance traveled on a map at the front of the class. The object of the lesson is to reach shore.

“There’s a lot of creativity involved and it’s very independent,” Scheidel said. “They go at their own pace, and they’re in charge of their own destinies.”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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