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UW Professors Help Fourth-Graders Connect with Wyoming

March 10, 2015
man kneeling on floor with boy working on large drawing
UW Professor Allen Trent, right, works with UW Lab School fourth-grader Liam Kelly on a “We Are Wyoming” project. Students created a map of Wyoming featuring famous landmarks and state symbols, one of at least six hands-on projects created by Trent and Associate Professor Peter Moran to teach about the state’s history and culture. (UW Photo)

The Wyoming fourth-grade experience -- and opportunities for meeting educational standards to learn the state’s history and culture -- have recently expanded, thanks to a new University of Wyoming College of Education project.

The “We Are Wyoming” project combines art, social studies and language arts to embed state curriculum standards into a series of innovative learning activities targeting fourth-graders. Education faculty members Allen Trent, professor of educational studies, and Peter Moran, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education, created the project’s assignments.

Combining curricular areas creates new opportunities to meet state standards. It also expands the tools available to teachers who want to invite their students to think about their home state in new ways.

Trent is introducing “We Are Wyoming” to students and teachers across the state during his 2014-15 sabbatical. Moran accompanies Trent on many of the visits. By the end of the spring 2015 semester, the duo will have introduced the program to classes in most, if not all, of Wyoming’s counties.

Funding for the project comes from the Everett D. and Elizabeth M. Lantz Distinguished Professorship in Education, awarded to Trent in 2013. The college awards the Lantz professorship to “an outstanding education scholar and teacher with a proven track record and national reputation in the field of education.”

Trent and Moran work with fourth-grade teachers in one elementary school in each county. Using the “We Are Wyoming” assignments as a foundation, Trent and the local educators develop two full days of activities immersing students in Wyoming activities.

“The teachers were eager to participate, because of the Wyoming history component,” Trent says. “There’s plenty of Wyoming history (in the “We Are Wyoming” assignments), but it’s also more than that.”

Each stop includes a county-specific focus, usually including a field trip to a local history resource.

“There are wonderful little museums all over our state, most of which I didn’t know about,” Trent says of the common field trip choices. “I’ve gotten to go to a bunch of them.”

The “We Are Wyoming” website (https://sites.google.com/site/wearewyo/) serves as the project’s online portal and expanding resource database. It offers open access to Trent and Moran’s lesson plans and teaching materials, as well as links to Wyoming history and education resources. The site also houses student work galleries, photos of student-produced evidence for each location and each assignment.

“We hope that it becomes a repository for teaching about Wyoming,” Trent says. “In addition to our materials, we hope to gather references and other resources that can be added to what we already have.”

During each visit, students participate in at least six “We Are Wyoming” activities. Each student receives a journal and sketchbook, purchased with Lantz professorship funds. They use the books during the two days, recording information, responding to writing prompts and sketching ideas for “We Are Wyoming” projects. Students decorate the covers, personalizing them and creating individual spaces for capturing their growing Wyoming knowledge.

“We Are Wyoming” assignments that address state curriculum standards include:child's hands with drawing of pronghorn and Indian paintbrush

-- Wyoming Map Mural Project -- Students work individually to create square sections of a map of the state, then combine them to create a unified mural. In addition to incorporating knowledge of geography, it includes mathematics concepts.

-- Wyoming Physical Map Project -- Students work independently to create a physical map, placing important physical features and political landmarks. Responses to guided questions help deepen understanding and address a range of standards.

-- County Quarter Project -- Using local knowledge, including fact sheets created by Trent, students design quarters that represents their counties. Guided discussions document their understanding of what makes their counties unique and how their local environments fit within the larger state context.

-- Writing about Wyoming Art Project -- This art criticism project introduces students to work by six Wyoming artists. Different types of guided discussions ask children to analyze the messages conveyed in an example from each artist. Each participating school received a set of all six prints, purchased by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund.

-- Wyoming History Timeline Project -- Each student selects one historic event or person, researches that topic, and then creates a panel illustrating it. Class members then assemble their events in chronological order. While each student develops deeper knowledge of one individual topic, access to what others have created extends the learning opportunity.

-- Wyoming Paintings Project -- Students sketch, and then paint, a watercolor work that illustrates one compelling idea about Wyoming that they take away from the experience.

For more information on “We Are Wyoming,” visit the project website or email Trent at atrent@uwyo.edu.


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Chad Baldwin

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