Since it’s October and the most exciting part of the baseball season is in full swing, I want to share and welcome your advice on, a new unit I have started with my fourth grade students. This summer my husband and I took a trip to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Visiting the Hall of Fame rekindled my own love of baseball and the passion I have for teaching students about this sport. This is a topic I have tried to inspire my students to learn about in the past, but it never took off with the enthusiasm I had hoped for. Below are some of the sources and strategies I am using to make this unit a homerun. I also have a unique advantage this fall with the opportunity to leverage our home team’s inclusion in post-season play! Keep in mind that I am working in an all-girls setting.
To begin our unit I engaged in some of the practices for questioning based on Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. This activity is equivalent to engaging student with a K-W-L before starting a unit of study. Three or four students were grouped together and asked to write down any questions they had about baseball. I allotted 10 minutes for this activity and then the students were asked to go back and review the questions, identifying the three most important questions. From a group of students who self-identified as not knowing much about the sport, they came up with some great questions! Below are images of their work and collaboration questioning.
The PBS site for Ken Burns’ series on Baseball is a wonderful resource for teaching baseball in the classroom. We used the timeline and Baseball for Beginners sections to gain a quick overview of the sport and answer some of the basic questions the students had crafted.
Moving forward, the picture books we will read are Dirt on their skirts: the story of the young women who won the world championship by Doreen Rappaport, Mighty Jackie: the strike-out queen by Marissa Moss, and Girl Wonder: a baseball story in nine innings by Deborah Hopkinson. To make this topic relevant to my students and in response to their own questions about gender limitations in major league baseball, I wanted to include stories that focus on women in the sport. These titles also tie in nicely to the current story of Mo’ne Davis making history as an outstanding contributor in the 2014 Little League World Series. Voice of America wrote a very accessible profile of this incredible, poised young athlete.
Our final goal is to read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Boa Lord. This is one of my favorite books to share with my fourth grade students. There are so many lessons that can be taught in conjunction with the book that help build an understanding of immigration, use rich vocabulary to teach idioms, similes, and metaphors, and to discuss dealing with bullies. And what student doesn’t love the humor found in the writing?
To help differentiate the lesson, I have more material on hand for my students who are interested in digging deeper into the topic. These are some of my favorite books about baseball that will be available for students to read on their own:
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Michizuki
Lou Gehrig: the luckiest man by David Adler
The Longest Season: the story of the Orioles’ 1988 losing streak by Cal Ripken, Jr.
A Strong Right Arm: the story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson by Michelle Green
Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the secret mud that changed baseball by David Kelly
Please contribute any suggestions that you have for bringing great baseball stories to our students. And best of luck to all of those teams making their way to the World Series!