April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Inquiry and Integration Across the Curriculum: Global Citizenry

A major goal of social studies instruction is to create engaged citizens capable of making informed and reasoned decisions for the public good. More recently, the idea of global citizenry has come under discussion in classrooms across the county. This month we consider one example of active citizenship by focusing on the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Dr. Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) is known for her extraordinary work as an environmentalist, political activist, and supporter of women’s rights. To achieve her environmental goals, she founded the Green Belt Movement, a campaign that expanded beyond her native Kenya to other African nations. Her extensive grassroots projects to combat deforestation earned her the name Mama Miti, or “the mother of trees.” As a member of the Kenya’s Parliament, she worked to promote voter registration and constitutional reform. Her efforts to support sustainable development, democracy, and peace earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards emphasizes the use of compelling questions to promote inquiry. By drawing on the core disciplines of civics, economics, geography, and history, the framework helps educators introduce their students to the disciplinary perspectives needed to pursue inquiry in the social studies. Suggested performance indicators for each discipline guide us in shaping this approach. This framework also points to the many connections to Common Core State Standards in the language arts and literacy.

Inquiry and Integration

Topic/Essential Question: Why is Wangari Maathai considered a global citizen?
Grade Span:  Grade 3-4
Disciplinary Lens:
  • Civics: In order to act responsibly, citizens must learn the rules by which groups of people make decisions, govern themselves, and address public problems.
  • Economics: Economic decision-making involves making choices about how to use scarce resources to maximize the well-being of individuals and society.
  • History: An understanding of history requires an understanding the process of change and continuity over time.

Performance Standards:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards:

  • D2.Civ.6.3-5. Describe the ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families.
  • D2.Eco.1.3-5. Compare the benefits and costs of individual choices.
  • D2.Eco.2.3-5. Identify positive and negative incentives that influence decisions people make.
  • D2.His.3.305. Generate questions about individuals and groups who have shaped significant historical changes and continuities.

Common Core State Standards: (corestandards.org)

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.1-4.1  Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.2-4.2  Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.2-4.2  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.2-4.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Children’s Literature:

Books about Wangari Maathai

Johnson, J. C. (2010). Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace. Ill. by S. L. Sadler. New York: Lee & Low.
Napoli, D. J. (2010). Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. Ill. By K.Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Nivola, C. A. (2008). Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Winter, J. (2008). Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Orlando: Harcourt.

Additional Books about Active Citizens

Hopkins, H. J. (2013). The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. New York: Beach Lane Books.
Zalben, J. B. (2006). Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World. New York: Dutton.

Teaching Ideas:

  • After reading aloud Wangari’s Trees of Peace and Seeds of Change, work with students to complete the chart below as they gather information about conditions in Wangari’s village. What was life in her village like before she left for the U.S? What was it like when she returned? What was it like after the women of her village implemented changes?

Conditions in Kenya

Before Wangari Left Kenya        When Wangari Returned                After implementing

                                                             to Kenya                                     changes  



  • Using the completed chart (above), have students write an explanation of how the people in Wangari’s village were able to make changes that benefitted everyone. Ask them to cite evidence from the books to support their ideas.
  • In Mama Miti the author makes this statement: “Wangari changed a country one tree at a time. She taught her people the ancient wisdom of peace with nature.” Read Mama Miti aloud and discuss the following questions: What information did Wangari share with the people in her village?  How did this information teach them to peacefully co-exist with nature? Make a chart providing this information.

    What Wangari Taught Her People                    Why this Knowledge is about Peace

                                                                                               With Nature


After completing the chart, discuss the benefits of maintaining peace with nature.

  • In Seeds of Change, the author explains that big companies had one idea about how land could be used and Wangari and the Green Belt movement had another. Read the book aloud, and discuss these conflicting ideas. What are the benefits of following Wangari’s idea? The big companies? Which idea is best? Why?
  • After reading several of the books listed above, have students imagine they have the opportunity to interview Wangari Maathai. Have one student prepare to take Wangari’s role, while the rest of the students formulate  questions for her. After interviewing Wangari, also interview a woman from Wangari’s village, a man from Wangari’s village, the policeman who arrested Wangari, and the owner of a large company who sought land in Kenya. These interviews will assist students in seeing the various perspectives on Wangari’s Green Belt movement.
  • Have students work in pairs to write one-page plays. Using any of the books listed above, have students select an illustration that includes several people. For example, in Planting the Trees of Kenya one picture depicts Wangari speaking to children in a classroom as she explains how they can make their own tree nurseries. Imagine that the people in the illustration are talking to each other. Have students write a dialog that relates what they are saying. Students should practice reading their plays aloud, and then present them to the class.
  • Discuss how students can work together to benefit all. See if students can come up with a project that promotes citizenship and the well-being of everyone in the classroom.
  • Read The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins. In what ways is this story about Katherine Olivia Sessions, the woman who worked with volunteers to plant trees in San Diego, similar to and different than the story of Wangari Maathai? Make a Venn diagram comparing the work of these two women. Use the completed diagram as the basis of writing a comparison of Katherine Olivia Sessions and Wangari Maathai’s careers.
  • Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World by Jane Breskin Zalben provides brief portraits of 16 people—including Wangari Maathai—whose work has had a lasting impact. Read selected portraits and discuss how each person profiled worked to make the world a better place. Have each student learn more about one of the individuals featured in the book and prepare a short presentation about why that person should be considered a global citizen. People featured in the book include Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anwar Sadat.

Examining the life and work of Wangari Maathai through the disciplinary lenses of civics, economics and history helps students understand the meaning of citizenship. The C3 Standards zero in on the important goals of social studies, while the Common Core State Standards keep those goals related to informational literacy in sharp focus. When these standards are used together to plan curriculum, the result is a truly powerful, integrated approach to learning.

Next month, we explore middle school science.

Eds. Note: Other, recent topics explored in this column include: “Deconstructing Nonfiction,” “Talking about Nonfiction,” and “Inquiry and Nonfiction.”

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