Teaching the history and overwhelming magnitude of World War II and The Holocaust to 5th-9th grade students can be a daunting task. I REALLY want them to experience what we're reading and not just take the information and answer questions. Reality is, we cannot even begin to grasp the enormity of it, but we can do our best to learn about the era, those involved, the events and the heroes who risked lives for others.
Sadly, too often students hear dates, statistics and facts and it's in one ear out the other. I know first hand this type of learning. Along with elementary education, I majored in history in college. I learned a lot, regurgitated it for a test, and then went onto the next course. I really can't say I had a professor who made an impact on my learning or that I fell in love with learning in college. This is sad. I imagine it's the same for many students.
Working with our kids has taught me to LOVE learning. I LOVE thinking about being a pioneer girl on the open plain. I love wondering if I'd have what it would take to help with the Underground Railroad. Would I have the courage of Harriet Tubman or Corrie Ten Boom? I've walked trails in our home state imagining I was Christy heading up through the Appalachian Mountains to teach. Even tonight as I was completing a grueling workout running 400 meters, in the dark, carrying a 35 pound weight, I was imagining I was running from the Nazis carrying one of my children. Perhaps, I've been reading a little too much about World War II.
I'm currently teaching a book study on Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. When planning to teach on the Holocaust, I found the National Holocaust Museum a GREAT resource. They have informative guidelines for educators. The guidelines point out that it's important to discuss the four types of groups involved: victims, perpetrators, rescuers, and bystanders. We've discussed "The Final Solution" and that 6 million Jews were killed, but I had a sense the enormity of six million wasn't being translated into people. One activity we did this week was to try to provide a visual representation for six million.
Forgive me if rice seems trivial, but I thought it would represent the magnitude and enormity of the number.
I brought a two pound bag of rice to class.
I divided our small class into three groups. I asked each group to count the grains of rice I measured out to them. I gave one group one cup of rice. The two other groups received one teaspoon of rice. The one cup of rice proved to be too much to count manually so we did our own calculations. The two groups who had one teaspoon of rice counted out about 250 grains for their one teaspoon of rice.
There are 48 teaspoons in one cup, so we multiplied 48 X 250 equaling 12,000.
There were 5 cups of rice in the two pound bag. This calculates to about 60,000 grains of rice in the 2 pound bag!
In order to count to six million, the students would need how many two-pound bags of rice? ONE HUNDRED!!
With each grain of rice counted I tried to visualize each one as a person. This is beyond comprehension! Unfathomable!
I hope the lesson made an impact for the students. It hit my heart...HARD!