Second Graders Use Data to Learn to Change the World

What do teddy bears, sewing, unions, sweatshops, graphs, geography, economics, history, laundry, surveys, community organizing, and a "protestor's dictionary" have in common? They were all part of teaching second graders about data. In a 2009 article in Connect Magazine, teacher Mary Cowhey outlined how her students' interest in making clothing for their teddy bears led to an exploration of clothing (where it was made, the conditions for workers, etc.), of unions and labor organizing, and more. Here are a couple excerpts:
As the graph construction [of where their clothing was made] continued, students generated more questions, “What happened to the sewing machine, button and silk factories we had here? What happened to the ILGWU? How come the clothing factories moved south and then out of the US? How are workers treated in other countries? Do they have unions? What does “fair trade” mean?” We met with the economic development officer for the city, to learn about local industry and unionization. We visited Ten Thousand Villages to learn about Fair Trade.

As my students told our story of learning about where clothing comes from, they realized a lot of people didn’t know what a union, strike or boycott is, so Jeff proposed we write our own Protesters’ Dictionary for kids, and that became our next writing project.

I was excited to see my students’ thirst for data propel them to learn geography and economics and reflect on issues of social justice and activism....We used the children’s natural curiosity about where our clothing was made to learn how to sort and classify data, represent and describe data and design and carry out our own data investigation.
Read the complete article.

This is just another phenomenal example of how the "basics" can be taught and explored through a real world lens that infuses humane education principles into what and how students are learning. Cowhey integrated several subjects into the exploration of data, including history, economics, art, mathematics, geography, and literature. The students connected with members of their community. They involved their families and friends in the work they were doing. They conducted real examinations of real data. Their work was realized in real, practical ways (such as the graphs and the dictionary they created). And at every turn they were inspired to ask questions, think critically, and follow their curiosity. And this is second graders. Imagine what's possible for every age.

(Note: For ideas for exploring issues surrounding our clothing with older students, check out activities such as Clothing Line Up and Where in the World?, and The Shirt Off My Back, which offers an entire unit exploring the impact of a T-shirt on people, animals & the earth.)

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of cambodia4kidsorg via Creative Commons.

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