Immigration has had a profound effect on California society, from our early Spanish colonial history to the later influx of Chinese immigrants, and it is still transforming us today. Second graders have become “history detectives” as they study how immigration has shaped the Bay Area.

“The overarching theme is California history with a specific focus in immigration,” Associate Teacher Michelle Morikawa said. “We’ve been looking at the immigration process as a whole. What pushed immigrants out of their original country and what pulls may have attracted them to their new country?”

The goal is for students to be able to identify that their families were originally immigrants, understand that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and value the richness that new Americans add.

Students have been asked to think about “Who are we?” “How did we get here?” and “Where are we from?” second-grade teacher Damon Allswang said.

At the beginning of the year, students completed a genealogy project, tracing their ancestors’ countries of origin back five generations. Students also studied the Ohlone Native Americans and Spanish colonial immigration to California, the California Gold Rush and the impact it had on transportation and the transcontinental railroad, the current Syrian refugee crisis, and Chinese immigration.

Second graders also visited the Chinese Historical Society in Chinatown and Angel Island Immigration Station. On the field trips, students heard first-person accounts of Chinese immigrants and saw what the immigration process looked like at Angel Island from 1910 to 1940.

Students said they enjoyed actually seeing the places they’d studied in class.

“I liked the movie that we watched,” Eloisa L. said. “I also liked the real suitcases that the immigrants brought. That was pretty cool to see.”

Classmate Lina B. said she liked that “we got to see the bunk beds that they slept on and all the things they packed in their suitcase.”

“They were so excited because they’d seen Angel Island appear in primary and secondary source documents so many times already,” Morikawa said. “They had a lot of prior knowledge going in.”

While learning about the Angel Island immigration story, students examined historical photos, diary entries, and physical artifacts, second-grade teacher Sam Modest said.

“We practice a lot of scientific thinking skills: observing, inference, hypothesizing, and whittling down to the truth,” Modest said. “We’re working to build the story ourselves through primary and secondary source interaction.”

As students reviewed these sources, they learned to keep in mind that no historical account is completely free of bias and that everyone can have misconceptions about the past.

“They confirm or disprove ideas,” Modest said. “They continually reassess.”

To exploit their Angel Island knowledge, students are now using their design thinking skills to complete an Angel Island redesign project.

“It’s based on the two field trips and curriculum, looking at the way Chinese were treated when they came to Angel Island,” Morikawa said.

Students will decide how immigrants’ needs were not met and will re-envision the process to make it better. For example, some have suggested a school system for immigrants to learn English and others have proposed more adequate food.

This spring, students will study what immigration looks like today. They will examine the attraction of Silicon Valley and the migration to the Bay Area as a result of the tech boom, and the will study immigration across the border.

To bring the entire unit full circle for their culmination project, second-graders will interview a family member, family friend, or someone they know about that person’s immigration experience. They will use notes and recordings to create a narrative of the story and give a presentation in May.

“It goes back to the first genealogy project, when they looked at all of the different countries they’ve come from, Morikawa said.

This is the first year second graders have studied immigration. Damon said the immigration unit came about organically.

“Last year, our theme was local history,” he added. “As we started doing that we realized the more interesting piece is who is here and how did they get here?”

The team wanted to make sure there was a local focus and that the unit connected to students’ lives, Allswang added.

“It’s very relevant politically right now,” Modest said. “It’s interesting how much it continues to come up. I think it’s cool the kids come away with ‘we’re a nation of immigrants.’”

“We want them to have compassion for other perspectives and learn about other cultures and how they connect,” Associate Teacher Erin Metcalf added.


March 4, 2016

GRADES PK-8

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