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Native American History Comes Alive in Fifth Grade Exhibition

St. Luke’s fifth-graders have been studying Native American culture and recently hosted an exhibition in the Forese Family Fireplace Commons to display what they learned. The project featured a multidisciplinary approach, with students researching and writing about Native American tribes in history class, creating fictional stories in English class inspired by Native American myths and legends, and crafting artifacts like pinch pots and wigwams in art class.

In History Teacher Rob Salandra’s class, students chose a specific Native American tribe or nation to study and research. Students gathered numerous valid sources online and in various texts, helping to enhance their research skills in both history and library classes. Using their research, each student wrote an essay about different cultural aspects of their chosen tribe. Their write-ups included the tribe’s name and location, traditional language, dwellings, food sources, art, history, and culture. 

In Elaine Juran’s English class, students worked on an engaging writing unit inspired by the creation and origin myths of Native American cultures. Students practiced essential writing skills, including using vivid sensory details, developing complex characters with unique voices and motivations through dialogue, structuring a plot, and establishing an overarching theme. 

To bring their stories to life visually, students could partner with Juran to utilize an artificial intelligence image generator (ChatGPT 4) to create an important scene or character depiction from their myth. This part of the project allowed the class to discuss the importance of transparency and proper citation when using AI tools. Students also learned that often the AI prompts need to be revised to produce the desired output — reinforcing the iterative nature of the creative process. 

Juran shared, “This interdisciplinary unit strengthened student storytelling abilities while fostering cultural awareness, creativity, and critical thinking about our class novel and emerging technologies.”

The third component of this project was a piece of artwork designed with guidance from St. Luke’s Middle School Art Teachers Samantha Mongardi and Jessica Dowling. Students crafted ceramic artifacts inspired by the Native American cultures they learned about. From mortars and pestles to longhouses and spears, a range of ideas took shape. Artists finished their kiln-fired creations with color and pattern in matte glazes and underglazes.

During the exhibition, students, faculty, staff, and fifth grade families perused the displays and heard directly from the students, who shared what they had learned about the culture and history of Native American tribes. 

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St. Luke’s School is a secular (non-religious), private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving over 35 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.