Grade 7 Inquiry Project: Mesopotamia


  • Tracy Gidinski
  • Diana Zimmerschied
  • with assistance from Patricia Finlay and Lucky Saini

Curriculum Areas

  • Social Studies
  • Writing
  • Reading (Literature)
  • Art

Primary Focus

  • Social Studies
  • Key Elements
    •  Grade 7 Ancient Civilizations
  • P.L.Os
    • A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B3, C1, C2, E1, E2

Big Idea

  • Understand how civilization developed in Mesopotamia because of the right physical, social, environmental, and economic conditions.

Essential Questions

  • Why is Mesopotamia called the Cradle of Civilization?
  • Why is the “Fertile Crescent” so named?

Resources Used

  • iPads, computers, laptops
  • BrightLink
  • Library, Burnaby Public Library, District Learning Resource Centre – books, DVDs
  • TC2 ,YouTube, Brainpop
  • Textbook: Ancient Worlds
  • Lesson from Critical Challenges for Primary Students
  • Clay

Building Background Knowledge/Activating the Inquiry Process

  • Present PowerPoint on the 8 key points of civilization
  • Textbook: Ancient Worlds– Chapter 3: Steps to Civilization (pp. 54-64) – from farming to cities
    • Read textbook, pp. 54-57.  Write one paragraph (with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion) on your hypothesis on how farming started.
      • Samples:
        • I think farming began when some people dropped vegetables on the ground. When they would pick it up, there would still be some food there. Since the food contained seeds, over time the food sank into the ground and it would start growing as a plant. Over time this would grow into a nutritious editable plant. So some people with put food on the ground and wait for months and months and the same thing would happen again. Eventually people would figure out how to take care their plants. Like watering them and making sure the soil is good. This is how I think farming had started.
        • I think that farming started when children would throw their fruit on the ground and the people got tired of picking it up. I think this because young children will often throw their food on the ground today so they probably would have done it back then too. I also know that the fruit is actually made to nourish the seed inside. Another thing I know is that mothers are sometimes too busy to pick up after their kids. In conclusion that is why I think that farming started because children threw their food on the ground. (that’s right, it was actually useful)
    • Have students consult textbook (pp. 62-63) and create a Doorway to Civilization (integrating art, hands-on for different learning styles)

secret door civilization project

secret door project, front cover

secret door project, with non-secret panel opened

secret door project, with secret panel revealed

another front cover

another inside panel

another secret panel


student samples: cuneiform clay tablets

sample: cuneiform clay tablet


  • Students and teacher work together to brainstorm research topics based on the 6 curriculum categories (culture, economy, technology, society, human & physical environment, and governance) and the 8 Key Points of Civilization – see photo of web. Students then expand the web to include topics of interest. Students then handed in 5 topics they would be interested in researching. The teacher assigns a topic to each students based on their choices and the importance of covering all categories and major topics. Students are grouped by curriculum categories:

Students came up with the subcategories in each area, then chose their favourites

Instructions for choosing their categories


Connect to Old and New Learning/Acquiring Information

  • Students explore various books in the classroom.
  • Students come to the computer lab and explore the World Book Online and the Visual Search on Mesopotamia set up by the teacher-librarian.
  • Students will learn how to avoid plagiarism with the help of the classroom teacher and the teacher-librarian. – Plagiarism video will be shown.
  • Students will use note-taking sheets that will require them to list sources.

Build Questions/Applying Learning

  • As students continue to research, they will be given a worksheet with which to help them rewrite and refocus their question.
  • Students create their research presentation using a presentation program such as Inspiration, PowerPoint, Glogster, and Prezi.
  •  Students present to their class.
  • Students meet with their groups based on one of the six curriculum categories. They look for connections among their various research topics. The groups create one presentation linking their information together around one inquiry question, doing additional research as needed. These are shared among the two grade seven classes.
  • Students are brought back to the original essential questions of Why is Mesopotamia called the Cradle of Civilization?  Why is the “Fertile Crescent” so named?
  • Sample individual assignments:

Culminating Activity

  • Students listen to the other students’ presentations, and take notes on the key ideas from each one
  • Students use the notes to create a mind map of their knowledge of Mesopotamia
    • Samples:

A student’s mind map

Another mind map

Another mind map



Expansion Ideas

  • Do the Inuit have a civilization? Compare and contrast a culture and a civilization?
  • Our next civilization to study is Egypt. We will constantly refer back to our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia to make comparisons and contrasts between it and ancient Egypt, and between them both and our modern culture.

Models Used in Creating Project

Interview Observations

We interviewed some students during and after their work, and this is their feedback:

  • Many students enjoyed creating their own inquiry questions, revising their questions, and felt ownership.
  • Students loved the window activity.
  • Students enjoyed hearing each other present.
  • Students used a variety of resources, but Google was definitely the most popular.
  • Students could find adequate information to answer their questions.
  • Students enjoyed the videos. Posting videos on Edmoto allowed students to view them at home.
  • Students feel comfortable with using PowerPoint.
  • Prezi was difficult for students to use at school and at home.
  • Students felt they learned a lot about Mesopotamia.


What Worked

  • Time to work with Patricia and Lucky
  • Bright Link to demonstrate
  • TC2 books and website lesson plans
  • Patricia coming in to teach a lesson
  • Setting up an inquiry question at the beginning – letting students refine into individual questions – then going back to the original question
  • Hands on activities, such as the windows project and the clay cuneiform project
  • Resources from BPL
  • Visual Search links and World Book
  • Building background knowledge on the topic
  • Specific instruction on developing powerful questions
What Could Have Been Better

  • Internet connections – Prezi/Glogster needed to be worked on at home, and were difficult to use
  • Would have liked to spend more time collaborating with classroom teacher before the project started
  • Many resources from the DLRC were already booked or not returned on time
  • Because of scheduling conflicts, the T-L was not available when most of the research was being done.



  • Continue promoting TC2 resources
  • Offer more inquiry professional development, and more practical ideas/units for teachers
  • Upgrades in technology, especially internet speed.
  • More collaboration time for teacher-librarians and classroom teachers to work together.
  • Multiple copies of resources at the DLRC.
  • More flexibility in classroom teachers’ timetables.

Mesopotamia Internet Links – Destiny Visual Search

On the Future of Books

On the drive home from work tonight, a colleague of mine asked me what my thoughts were on what the future of reading is, considering the progress of technology. What will happen with books in the future? Do people read on line, or do they print stuff from the internet out to have a hard copy to read? An unofficial survey in my colleague’s masters course showed that about 30% (I think) printed out the required readings from the internet. I’ve printed out some, but not all, of the readings for my masters course, and only when I didn’t want to lug my laptop into my bedroom to finish up on readings before turning out the lights.

Maybe it has to do with what you do with reading. I, for instance, absolutely ABHOR writing in textbooks, and not just for the resale value. (Although, all things considered, I don’t think I’ve ever resold a textbook. Oh, wait: Faulkner’s Light in August, which we had to purchase, went as quickly as possible back to the school after Grade 11 English.) I’d rather take notes in a coilbound notebook rather than write in a textbook. It pained me when I found I had to start taking notes in my bible to keep things straight (although, there again, I usually use my palm pilot for the bible).

I think it also has to do with the process of skimming and scanning, especially when comparing written literature with audio forms of literature. You can’t easily skim a cd to find something of interest the way you can scan a newspaper. The written word allows for more imagination, too, as you have to fill in the voice of the speaker in a story yourself. I know for myself too that I can read umpteen times faster than I can listen. And my written output itself is much more coherent than my oral output.

I think books are here to stay.

Picture: by Alvimann

benefits to blogging

The grade 6/7 classes in my school have just started their student blogs. We’re just in the process of “prettifying” their blogs and creating avatars for themselves, and a few have started writing their first posts…simple journal entries to start, but soon we’ll be using the blog for more specific classwork.

I’ve decided on blogging with the students, despite my own reservations about blogs (see my creepy treehouse post) because of the fact that I’ve heard from friends with children the inappropriate use of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook (no link on purpose) by both children and adults, and want to do my part in teaching kids about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to put on the internet. In addition, I’m concerned with the amount of plagiarism that occurs in all grade levels, and want to teach kids more about copyright (including the creative commons) of both images and text, how to cite sources, and how to avoid plagiarism.

I referenced the post, Rationale for Educational Blogging, in my letter to parents informing them of how I was using blogs. In her post, Anne Davis includes the following points in her (much longer) list:

  • ….Students feel more compelled to write when they believe many others may read and respond. It gives them motivation to excel….
  • Blogging affords us the opportunity to teach responsible public writing….
  • Blogging provides the opportunity for our students to learn to write for life-long learning….
  • ….Students have the opportunity to read their classmates’ blogs and those of others…
  • The archive feature of blogging records ongoing learning….

Another benefit is that students who find oral communication difficult or impossible for whatever reason have an opportunity to communicate with their peers in new and authentic ways.

I also discussed, in my letter to parents, the safety precautions I have in place to protect the students. I’m using the site for the student blogs, which gives me control over what is published, both in terms of articles and comments.

Picture: author: ppdigital


venetianI’ve just completed the Teaching Perspectives Inventory – for the second time.  The first time through, I tried to balance what I felt about teaching in three aspects: with my grade 6/7 class, with teaching English 11 in the summer, and with being an advisor for student teachers.  The second time through I just concentrated on teaching my 6/7 students.  (The five perspectives are transmission, apprenticeship, developmental, nurturing, and social reform, and are summarized here.)

The results for my two tests weren’t so different from each other, although when just considering my 6/7 class, the Developmental perspective was my dominant perspective, and the Transmission perspective was recessive.  When considering all, the five perspectives were more equal across the board.

What surprised me most of all, however, is that when considering all forms of teaching, I scored higher in the Nurturing perspective than when considering just elementary students.  This surprised me mostly because this perspective, along with the Developmental perspective, is what I most associate with myself.  It was my actions, as opposed to my beliefs and intentions, that were weaker in the Nurturing perspective.

On reflection, I think this relates to my last post – avoiding the creepy treehouse – journaling & blogging.  I don’t require students to share their feelings and emotions, but let that occur naturally, when students want to share.  I do set up opportunities for students to do this (e.g., working side-by-side with students while working on art activities), but I think, if anything, the wording of the questions that related to actions associated with the Nurturing perspective affected my profile there.

avoiding the creepy treehouse: journaling & blogging

The recent posts from David Warlick (Toys and Tools), Bora Zivkovic (There is no need for a ‘Creepy Treehouse’ in using the Web in the classroom), and the article and responses from the article that spurred their posts (Wired Campus: When Professors Create Social Networks for Classes, Some Students See a ‘Creepy Treehouse’) led me to think about the term “creepy treehouse” in relation to the use of certain technology tools in the classroom.

In the article, Jeffrey R. Young states:

A growing number of professors are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking tools for their courses, but some students greet an invitation to join professors’ personal networks with horror, seeing faculty members as intruders in their private online spaces. Recognizing that, some professors have coined the term “creepy treehouse” to describe technological innovations by faculty members that make students’ skin crawl.

I’m sure the vast majority of professors who are using these tools have nothing sinister in mind. I’m also sure, however, that some do, leading to the “creep factor.”

Granted this article is talking about college and university, but it does relate to the elementary classroom as well. As I’ve been trying to set up some ways to get students blogging and using the Web 2.0 starting in September, I now need to look at it carefully to make sure I’m not creating a creepy treehouse. I shudder at the thought that some students may find this “creepy”; I need to make sure that students don’t find this an infringement on their privacy.

I remember as a student, very much prior to computer technology, that any time I was asked to do a journal entry, I felt that that was an invasion of privacy. In fact, in grade 9 English, I remember being forced to journal for a set period of time each class. The teacher promised not to read the journal; she was only going to give a completion mark at the end of the year. I don’t think I wrote a single serious entry. Most of it was a very paranoid variation of, “Are you reading this, even though you said you wouldn’t?” (I’m sure that if she actually had read it, she would have referred me to a counsellor…perhaps, this should have happened, in retrospect!)

I think that this is why I have never really forced students to journal (although I haven’t given it conscious thought until now). When I have done journals, I’ve always given an impersonal prompt (a quotation, poem, or question to respond to, for instance) in case they don’t want to write about their life. However, maybe not doing journals with students is avoiding a valuable form of communication with students who would prefer to communicate with me through writing. This is something I have to think more about. I have a week!

I know that I will be aware of this as I embark on using blogs and other web-based tools in the classroom. I will also be aware of this as I re-embark into the academic world and start an on-line masters program, which I am sure will challenge my fears about journals and blogging.

the wordle debate and report cards

my last term\'s report cards, wordle-fiedI’ve just read Dan Meyer’s post, and the subsequent comments that resulted from that post, entitled, Correct Me If I’m Wrong, about the significance of Wordle in the classroom. I have used Wordle this summer with my summer school class to create a display of literary terminology, and played around with it a bit thinking of ideas on how it can be used in the classroom (Mother’s Day and Father’s Day comes to mind, for instance).

I liked the idea of looking at the use or misuse of repetition in a piece of literature, and that spurred the idea to input a set of my report cards to see what would emerge, the result of which is in this post. What I find interesting is that, although I have always believed that my report cards were reader-friendly, the words that I use most often might not be understood by the average parent. It appears that I need to use more ESL-friendly vocabulary in the future. I didn’t realize how often I used the word “work.”

guiding lights

In response to Doug Belshaw’s post 4 quotations that will guide me next academic year, I thought I’d copy out the quotations that I included in my comment to him. The quotations that mean the most to me reveal something about why I went into teaching in the first place, what I think about children, and what my weaknesses are (i.e., what I need to remind myself about the most). Here they are:

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of others. (Charles Dickens)

This has been on the back wall of my classroom for me to look at more than the kids, to remind me of one of the main reasons I went into education.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring; those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (Robert F. Kennedy)

This quotation reiterates my reasons for entering education as a career as well. It’s why teaching social responsibility is so important.

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (John Watson)

This one reminds me to consider others’ situations, both colleagues, students, and parents, even if I’m feeling far from kind (i.e., when I’m letting someone push my buttons).

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Henry David Thoreau)

This one reminds me to allow those “square pegs,” as many call them, in my classroom to flourish in their own way.

It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them. (Mark Twain)

For when someone else gets credit for your ideas. I think this quotation is becoming more important as technology changes, as the best way to improve education is to share ideas on the internet. Once good ideas are “out there,” it matters more that they are used; not who created them.

learning theories and the game of mao

In the summer I teach English 11, morphing from an elementary teacher into a secondary teacher for six weeks. One of the writing assignments I do with them is based on the card game Mao. The card game is unique in that the only rule you can tell the other players is that no one can tell them the rules: they have to learn by playing the game. I play a few rounds of the game with three volunteers while the other students watch. After playing, I debrief with the students and ask them how they learned the rules. The list usually includes the following:

  • learn by playing
  • learn by making mistakes
  • learn by being penalized (they get penalty cards after making a mistake)
  • learn by watching what the “Mao master” does, and try to copy
  • learn by “reading faces”
  • learn by watching others play
  • learn by comparing game to other similar games

After this, I ask them to write an essay on how the game is a metaphor for life. These essays are some of the most powerful writing that these students produce, and shows insight into how these students see their own learning. Some students are reluctant, if not terrified, to learn without being taught directly, whereas others jump feet first into the challenge of trying to figure out the rules. Most students recognize that learning by making mistakes, or by watching others make mistakes, is an excellent way to learn. Many equate the penalties with harsh discipline and punishment they have met along their lives’ journeys, and they often describe this way of learning as “unfair.” Those students who were able to see the similarities between Mao and other card games had the easiest time learning the game. The students who watched the game and discussed it, throwing out theories and discarding the bad ones, while it was being played also learned more than the other students.

This leads me to what I feel is the essential nature of the process called learning. I believe that effective learning involves the following:

  • freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them
  • freedom of choice
  • an extensive bank of background knowledge on which to scaffold new information
  • the ability to share new learning with others

This is, of course, just a beginning look into learning theories. As a course on learning theories is the first course of my masters program, I thought I’d start thinking about it now, in August, while I have more time. I will write more on this later on.