OAKHURST – Fifth grade students in Mrs. Robin Ward’s class at Oakhurst Elementary School (OES) experienced the thrill of public speaking when they took on the role of local travel agents, presenting their trip recommendations to a panel of adult professionals.
Prior to the presentation on Friday, Feb. 14, Mrs. Ward spent hours developing this special project as a curricular unit.
The idea was to integrate language arts and math standards, while encouraging students to work in cooperative groups. Mrs. Ward gave the young scholars a big assignment: they were to research, design, price and, ultimately, present a Yosemite National Park (YNP) vacation package designed to delight a “family of four.”
The children spent months researching the Park, and its myriad activities available. Their presentations would include hiking, biking, photography, art, shopping, dining, accommodations and especially, viewing the scenic wonders. The culminating activity had each group presenting their “pitch,” trying to convince the panel to use their travel agency for the “vacation of a life time.”
Why is this important for students? A major component of the new Common Core standards requires students to become knowledgeable workers for the 21st century. In the real world, we are tasked with working together to find solutions. Additionally, students need to be able to communicate effectively, and to apply their knowledge, all while integrating the technological tools available.
Mrs. Ward was intrigued by the idea of using real-life, non-scripted scenarios to promote concepts required by Common Core.
“The new standards have been the subject of some concern, with parents wondering how kids can learn to be critical thinkers who are able to reason, beyond simply choosing a letter on a standardized school test,” explained Mrs. Ward. “The standards are intense and rigorous,” she continued. “Thankfully, that is how I teach.”
The class used the Yosemite National Park newsletter as a platform to introduce the travel agency project.
“Students learned how to read a paper, what areas of the paper to look in for activities, hikes and lodging, and they paid particular attention to safety issues,” Mrs. Ward added.
“With that and several other resources, the kids were challenged to plan a dream vacation for a family of four to our own ‘backyard,’ Yosemite. The kids wrote their pitches, which were actually expository essays, and delivered them in groups to a panel of judges. These community members gave serious feedback and decided whether they would ‘bite’ on each group’s vacation package, or not.”
The project combined reading and writing expository text, planning sequenced events, learning the history of YNP and preparing a realistic budget for the always fun and often dramatic trips the students organized. Students were compelled to dress appropriately for the official business presentation, and the students complied, looking dapper and prepared. They had to include details of the trip along with budget, and were asked to come up with slogans to go along with their pitches.
“I am so proud that I had 100% of my students successfully represented,” Mrs. Ward commented, “and so thankful to the community members of the panel who took time out of their busy schedules to listen in. The writing aspect of this project was complex, yet the students took my advice and ran with it.”
The project took four months, and Mrs. Ward offered special thanks to student teacher Mrs. Michelle Burton, who “came in, dove in and stayed in to help us win.”
While some students are intimately familiar with YNP, others have never even been inside the gates. That didn’t stop anyone from planning vacations that covered a nearly endless list of opportunities for a great adventure, with notably little relaxing.
“The kids can appreciate the park on a whole new level now,” Mrs. Ward said enthusiastically. “As an added bonus, they can now better understand how expensive it is when we take vacations!”
View the Oakhurst Elementary School Parent-Teachers Club (OES PTC) Facebook page.