Fantasy Islands in Fifth Grade

by Michael Porter
Students in 5th graded learned about topography by inventing their own islands!
Global Studies teacher Dona Kenny has a novel approach to teaching her students about topography, or the physical features of our Earth. Her students were given the task of inventing an island that illustrates 32 different water and land features they studied in class.
"In our study of topography, we have learned all about the physical features of our Earth," said Ms. Kenny. "These features typically include natural formations such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys."

"After learning the definitions and looking at pictures of these actual land forms around the world, they draw them out and incorporate them in their themed island," said Ms. Kenny.
The students find clever names for each of the features, in keeping with the theme they have chosen for their island.

Victoria A. designed an island based on sports. She pointed out a few features: "There's Surfing Strait, Athletic Archipelago, Parkour Delta, Ice Hockey Isthmus..."
Bo B. chose "Dog Island" for the theme of his project.
"It was a very hard island to make because I had to write down and find 32 different dog breeds," Bo explained. "I had to label all the 32 terms on the map."

While the students were working, Ms. Kenny kept the students motivated by playing breezy island music and running a slide show of photos of islands from around the world.
"When assigning the Invent an Island project, I like to give the students a few examples for inspiration, and once they understand the expectations, they are off and running!" said Ms. Kenny. "Students take responsibility for their learning by using their own creativity to illustrate, name, and label land and water formations. Taking this kind of ownership over their learning increases the students' engagement and gives them the opportunity to take risks."

On Tuesday, the students presented their completed island maps to their classes.
Even though the maps were drawn by hand on paper, Ms. Kenny employed some technology for the presentations. She photographed each map, and allowed the students to project their maps on the big screen, and even zoom in to enlarge certain features.
Their artistry and creativity were on full display, as they showed their carefully drawn maps with cleverly named landforms and waterways.
"This is always a class favorite," said Ms. Kenny. "I have had alums who are now college kids come back to me and tell me that they still have their island hanging in their bedroom."