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Art, Geography, Literature, and History: A Cross Curricular unit on Russia and Eastern Europe

Produced by Rory Hunter, El Segundo, Middle School, 1997


This unit will consist of three main components: art, geography and literature,and history and literature. There will be a minimum of two days spent on each of these three areas of the unit. The three components will be incorporated into various sections of the curriculum previously established in the classroom and may not occur simultaneously but may be touched on throughout the school year. These topics will be used to compare ancient history to more modern history, to compare art works from different areas and times, to give the students knowledge about the world's geography today, and to embed cultural groups in history through the use of narrative, biography, and other personal literature.

The art component will explore classical music of Russia and Russian artwork, with an emphasis on Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism. This portion of the unit will coincide with the class discussion of the evolution of art throughout the world from realism, to cubism or futuristic art, to abstract art or Suprematism.

The geography component will be implemented at the beginning of the school year. The literature will be paired with the geographical component. The literature used will show both conflict and daily life in Eastern Europe. Modern geography of the area will be studied in order to place the literature in context. This modern geography and literature will both "open" our world up to the students and give them a reference to use while we study the world's ancient civilizations the rest of the year.

The history component will focus on the more recent conflicts in the area of Yugoslavia. Students will learn about the conflicts between the Muslims and Christians in this area. We will be comparing this cycle of violence and conflict between these two groups to the cycle of conflict in Israel that stems back to the times of the ancient Israelites. The students will view portions of the video "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo" and will read exerts from Zlata's Diary.

Part I: Art

Objective #1: The students will listen to various pieces of classical Russian music and respond in illustration and in writing to the imagery created by the music in order for the students to experience Russian music.

Procedure: I will play Glazunov's "Hungarian dance" from "Raymonda" and will ask the students to listen to it without talking. Next, we will listen to it again, and I will ask the students to draw the images that appear in their minds when they listen to this piece of music. After they draw the images, I will ask them to turn over their papers and write why they drew what they drew. I will do the same activity with two other pieces of music: Glazunov's "Spanish Dance" and Tchaikovsky's "Laendler."
Debrief: We will discuss how the students interpreted each piece of music and what images they thought of when they listened to each of the three pieces. I will ask them why they drew what they drew, what they felt was the mood of the music, and what part of the world they thought this music came from. I will explain the origins of the music and explain that this was an introduction into the arts of this particular area of the world.

Objective #2: The students will take their prior knowledge about realistic art and futuristic art and compare these art forms to Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism in order to understand the "next step" artists were taking away from anything remotely from the real world.

Procedure: The students will receive a background paragraph on Kazimir Malevich which will be read as a class. I will then show several of Malevich's works on the overhead: "Self Portrait", "Running Man", "Black Square", "Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions", and "Suprematism: Self Portrait in Two Dimensions". The students will then be encouraged to try their own "Suprematist" artwork.
Debrief: I will ask the students why they think this type of art work was so revolutionary at the time, why they thought an artist, who was capable of doing other types of art, would choose to do this, and what are their general feelings or impressions when viewing this art.

Part II: Geography and Literature

Objective: The students will color in and label a map of the continent of Europe in order to understand the geographical relationships between the countries in Europe.

Procedure: I will first handout the blank maps. Then before the students fill out the maps, I will read them a Slavic folk tale, "The Frog Princess".. I will ask them where on the map do they think this folk tale originated. Then I will ask them to take a pencil and, with out looking at another map, fill in as many countries as they can lightly with their pencil. I will then show them a filled in map on the overhead and ask for a show of hands as I call out how many students filled in <2, <5, <10, and >10 countries. The students will be able to use the maps around the classroom and in their textbooks to label and then color their maps. If the students do not finish their maps in class they are to be taken home and finished there.

Evaluation: The maps will be collected and graded on the accuracy of the information and neatness. The students will be tested on this map along with their maps of the other continents at the end of the entire geography unit.

Part III: History and Literature

Objective: The students will understand the history and culture of various Yugoslavian groups by being exposed to first person narratives and will be able to compare the situations and conflicts in this region to modern and ancient time Israel.

Procedure: I will give the students a brief history of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the conflicts between the two religious groups which stem back hundreds of years. I will begin each class session by reading aloud portions of Zlata's Diary. The students will also be keeping a journal or diary of their own during this part of the unit, and they will write in their journals after I read. They will be recording their own lives, their reactions to Zlata's Diary, and/or a response to what we are studying about the ancient Israelites. During this portion of the unit, we will view parts of "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo". This will give the students a different perspective of this conflict.

Debrief: Throughout the Ancient Israelites unit I will ask the students to tell me their thoughts on why conflicts over religion existed and why they still exist today in the modern world. I will have them think of other places and times when this type of conflict existed.

Evaluation: The students will be asked to compare in writing the situation in Israel to Bosnia. They will need to be able to gather and explain their thoughts in their own words.

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