Kevin Beneke ’89, a second grade teacher at Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph, created math lessons that are integrated into a series of trunks designed for third grade social studies. The trunks introduce students to archaeology as a way of studying the past and then to the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesoamerica and China.
Each concept is taught using a tub filled with projects and artifacts related to each subject that teachers can check out and use in their classroom. The tubs are accompanied by lesson plans and worksheets designed to teach students about the cultures and forms of math used by each civilization.
The project began as a partnership between St. Cloud State and the St. Cloud school district created by anthropology professor Debra Gold and third grade teacher Jodie Kragness, to build resources to teach social studies standards to third grade teachers.
Beneke, a special studies graduate student at St. Cloud State focusing on cross-curricular and differentiated education, was brought in later to add math curriculum to be embedded into the social studies curriculum.
The embedded math lessons include abacus lessons and problems students must solve involving Chinese coins and measuring Mayan pyramids and creating Mayan timelines.
He incorporated concepts from the ancient Egyptian game Senet, Egyptian numbering and archeological mapping of landmarks using algebra. For his work on the project, he earned a Graduate Student Achievement Award for 2015.
“Kevin was the ideal student for this project because of his interest in and knowledge about teaching math across the curriculum,” Gold said. “Thanks to his experience as an elementary teacher he had great insight into how the lessons would work in the classroom and was able to create lessons that could be put to use immediately.
Each lesson has three tiers of difficulty so teachers can tailor their lessons to the level of their students.
“Embedding it into the social studies gives the math a context,” Beneke said. “It makes the math more real for the students in the application.”
The curriculum has been adopted by the St. Cloud school district with third grade teachers throughout the district using the trunks in the classroom for the first time this year.
“The math lessons are each very different from one another, but they are all creative, engaging and use hands-on activities to teach the relevant math skills along with the social studies,” Gold said. “The third graders are having a lot of fun learning math with their social studies.”
Beneke said he is thankful for the chance to be involved with the project.
“I love the teaching — whether I get awards or not for the work that I do,” he said. “It’s what I enjoy. … It’s my passion. To be recognized for something that you really enjoy and would do no matter what — is kind of a bonus.”