McKinley 5th Graders Explore Family Heritage with Cross-Curricular Assignment

Fifth graders at McKinley Elementary School in Westfield recently explored their family’s past during a cross-curricular assignment that combined reading, writing, research, geography, technology, speech, history, graphic design, and interviewing skills.

Students interviewed a person in their family who knew someone or was someone who emigrated from a different country to the United States. Fifth graders asked the interviewee such questions as “Why did you come to America?,” “What was your homeland like?,” and “What did you do for work and housing when you arrived here?”

“Students then had to use the five themes of geography to determine the location of the person’s homeland, using global grid coordinate points on Google Maps,” says Joseph Paradise who, with fellow McKinley 5th grade teachers William Hannis, Ann McDonough, and the 5th grade team, created the “My Family’s Immigrant Story” project.

“The fifth-grade social studies curriculum has a 'World Studies' theme that focuses on regions and people and, more importantly, how geography influences the development of culture,” says K-12 Social Studies Supervisor Andrea Brennan.  “All fifth graders focus on the five themes of geography – location, region, place, movement, human/environment interaction – at the start of the year.”

Paradise says fifth graders used Google Earth to research the natural and constructed features of the person’s homeland. “The students then used the interview answers to create a third person account of their family’s ‘immigrant story,’” he adds.  “All of the information was transferred into a flipbook, designed with illustrations and photographs.”

Each student used Flipgrid – an online interactive educational tool – to showcase their presentation and to give a 3-5 minute speech on what they had learned about their family.

“What I liked about the project is I got to learn a lot about my grandparents and where they came from,” says one student. “While I was talking to my grandparents, it felt like Russia was my home!”

“Before this project, I didn't even know my great grandparent's first names but now I know so much more,” adds another. “I got to learn more about Ireland and especially about their home towns, Monaghan and Cork. I got to learn about cool places there and more about their life when they had to emigrate to America and I couldn't be more glad that they came!”

Another student was pleased to learn more about his mother’s life in her native Honduras.  “I also got to know more about the geography of the country and some of the family members that I have over there,” he says.  “I also got to know more about my ancestors, known as the ancient Mayans.” 


“I like this project because it provides an opportunity for the kids to celebrate their diversity,” Paradise says.  “I think the kids have a better appreciation for the sacrifices their family made to provide a better life for them. I hope this project brings families a bit closer during this challenging holiday season.”

Source: Westfield Public Schools