Grade 6 Students Explore Their Heritage in Interdisciplinary Unit for English and History

As St. Margaret’s grade 6 students started their first year in Middle School, English teacher Owen Beitner and history teacher Rian Otto collaborated to create an interdisciplinary unit that would work on public speaking, geography, reading, writing and research skills, and also serve as an ice breaker for students as they get acquainted with their new surroundings.

The interdisciplinary “Heritage Cookbook Project” explored and celebrated each student’s unique lineage, as grade 6 Tartans explored their ethnic heritage. English concepts were utilized as students interviewed family members, and organized their findings into a public-speaking presentation. History concepts were utilized through a study of the physical and human geography of their roots.  

“By sharing these unique stories with each other, we gain a deeper understanding of our own history as well as forge meaningful connections with others,” Mrs. Otto said.

The students’ presentations consisted of personal details of their family history and geographical background into their ancestral origins. Some students, like Elsa Gunderson, interviewed several family members for more comprehensive insight. Sally Chow added a multimedia component to her presentation, sharing a short video of her father’s childhood home in China.

As a bonus, students also inquired family members about beloved family recipes. They were submitted to be part of a Heritage Cookbook that will be compiled from all the submissions. Many were shared at a Family Feast Day, where dozens of dishes were tried by all grade 6 students.   

Students were assessed in Mr. Beitner’s class for their interview summary and keynote slides, as well as their written recipe. In Mrs. Otto’s class, students were graded on overall public-speaking presentation, as well as for incorporation of geographical aspects into their presentation.

Mr. Beitner and Mrs. Otto wrote the curriculum as part of an interdisciplinary learning initiative put forth by school leaders. The Heritage Cookbook Project proposal was one of 20 interdisciplinary grants awarded as part of a strategic goal to connect learning across subject areas. Mr. Beitner, Mrs. Otto and other faculty members teaching interdisciplinary units will share their experiences and model their pilots with the entire faculty during a professional development day in January.

 “I really enjoyed this,” said Mr. Beitner. “Not only in the collaborative efforts with Mrs. Otto’s world history class, but also the opportunity to learn more about the students’ families in such a unique way.” 
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California
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St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
31641 La Novia Avenue
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
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