Developing a New Social Studies Curriculum

February 28, 2020

By Luis Betancourt and Alexis Henin

“What was the Trans-Saharan network and what was traded? What caused the fall of Ghana? Who was Sundiata Keita? What is Islam and what role did it play in the Mali Empire?” These are some of the essential questions that have driven the lower school’s social studies curriculum for the Fell, Fry, Levi, and Penn (FFLP) rooms this year, a new curriculum that was developed last summer by Penn Room teachers Luis Betancourt and Alexis Henin, thanks to a generous PA grant.

For many years, the focus of the FFLP social studies curriculum alternated between the Age of Exploration and Medieval Europe. In an effort to diversify the content that students spend the majority of the year immersed in, it was decided to create a unit that would highlight the history and achievements of Western Africa during the Kingdom of Ghana and the Mali Empire. After extensive research, to understand the rise of the Mali Empire under Sundiata Keita, one must first know something of the Kingdom of Ghana. The unit thus begins in 1000 CE, at the height of Ghana, and continues through the fall of the Mali Empire in 1600 CE.

During their initial meetings, Alexis and Luis created essential questions to guide the unit, identified topics that could be transformed into mini-units, considered processing skills to focus on, and established a scope and sequence for the year. A list of online resources was compiled by the entire FFLP team, and read aloud books that support the unit were purchased. Additionally, in an effort to connect the FFLP geography paper to the primary social studies topic, it was decided that students will study the modern Western African countries of Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. Luis and Alexis then began writing the curriculum outline that is being used by the entire team as a guiding document. After a meeting in which the new unit was introduced to the team, individual teachers were assigned mini-unit topics ranging from “Mansa Musa’s Hajj” to “The Effects of Slavery in the Mali Empire.” The FFLP team has been excited to introduce this new curriculum to their students this year, and looks forward to using it for years to come.

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