The 5th graders not only study ancient civilizations in their social studies curriculum but they also work to create an alien civilization applying their learning in a year long project. To help the students organize their thinking and work on the year long "alien civilization" project, their teacher, Ms. Cook, teaches them how to use a construct called ESPRAT+G to ask questions about and better understand each civilization they study. ESPRAT+G is the an acronym for the study of economics, sociology (social structure), political science (government), religion, the arts, technology and how they are all affected by geography.
Another important part of Ms. Cook's curriculum is to have her students apply or transfer their understanding of ancient civilizations to new situations. Ms. Cook's came up with the idea of having her students look at their studies from the perspective of aliens needing to learn from human history so that they can improve their society.
Ms. Cook frames the challenge as a course of study:
"This course will delve into the complicated and interesting lives of the alien species called "Homo Sapiens" on the planet Earth. We will explore this species from some of their earliest ancestors to the more modern day looking at how the species evolved, settled, formed communities, and then developed culture."
The challenge goes on to have each student create an alien planet that is dying. The aliens need to relocate on another planet and start a new society. Ms. Cook tasks her students to create their own version of the alien civilization explaining why it has struggled but then how it will improve when relocated. The students draw on their learning about the successes and failures of human civilizations as they create a new and improved alien society (the transfer task). The students use Google Documents to keep a running journal about what the new planet and society will look like using the ESPRAT+G construct explaining what the economy, social structure, etc. will look like.
The students are at the first stage of creating their aliens and describing the troubles they are facing on their home world. The picture at the top of this post is a drawing of one such alien. Here is a portion of the 5th grader's initial write up about her alien society.
"The Slupers are aliens that have big “S” shape bodies and stick figure arms and legs. Their bodies are colored red. The Slupers are very big like giants and eat only meat, like carnivores. They love to crawl on all fours and they live on a cloud that turns solid enough for them to stand on it when they say “I’m forcing air come to me, make this cloud as heavy and solid as a tree.” This turns the cloud solid enough for these giants to stand on. They can fly for five days at least and 23 days at most."