Cutten Elementary students build parade floats as they learn about the 50 states

Fifth-graders enjoy hands-on learning activity exploring national landscape

  • Cutten Elementary School fifth-graders pulls their floats on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

  • Cutten Elementary School fifth-grader Sophia Beld, 10, aka “Miss New York”, pulls her float past fellow students on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

  • Cutten Elementary School fifth-graders Makenna McNamara, left, and Burke Morrow, both 11, talk after the parade on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

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The Minnesota float featured a can of Spam. The Wisconsin float featured both some cheese and a Green Bay Packers helmet. The state of Washington float was pulled by a John Deere tractor. All this as nearly 90 fifth-grade students from three classrooms at Cutten School held their annual float parade, featuring 49 of the 50 states in the union.

The parade was the culmination of about two months of work done by the students who each chose a state to focus on and learn about except California, which is the focus of the fourth-grade classes. The goal is for the students to perform their own research and then build a mini-float featuring the attributes each state possesses.

“A lot of hard work went into this,” said fifth-grade teacher Tracy Benbow as she tapped each student on the shoulder with the tip of an American flag to signal for them to join the parade. “The kids have researched the states they chose back at the beginning of February. They have created a state float using shoeboxes.”

The students paraded their floats in front of dozens of parents as well as the rest of the student body in third, fourth and sixth grades. It was the sixth-graders who were on parade a year ago and they kept a keen eye out for the state they had chosen. Fourth-graders will get their chance next year and, as Benbow put it, it’s a revolving cycle.

The students not only research information about the states through books and online resources, but they also sent out letters to gather information about their particular state. The project is one that encourages family participation and much of the building of the floats was done at home.

“My class wrote 29 business letters to departments of commerce and out of 29, 25 responded,” Benbow said. “They got a lot of great items like maps and other materials from the states they mailed. They love the idea they get to create with their hands and this is a project they get to complete at home where they could use materials they found around the house.”

Cutten Elementary School fifth-graders pull their floats on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

Nearly all of the 49 states that could be chosen were on display and some of the displays were intricately done.

One of the Massachusetts floats featured a model of the Mayflower while a tiny Paul Revere figurine on a horse warned of the oncoming Redcoats. One North Carolina float featured cotton, dogwood flowers and a plane in honor of the Wright Brothers, while Mardi Gras beads and a figure playing the saxophone were featured on a float for Louisiana.

For Tyler Hinrichs, a fifth-grader, Texas was the state he chose to feature and he did so because it’s a place he wants to visit one day, so what better way to learn about that than research the state for the parade?

“The sculpting and making the float, designing it and learning what Texas is about is what I liked and I added Longhorns to mine,” Hinrichs said as a light drizzle fell across the basketball court at the school. “The Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas and I just want to really visit Texas so I chose it to learn about and see what’s there and what there is to do.”

For principal Lauren Bryie, the parade and the work that goes into building the floats is a good way to make learning fun and it’s also a great way to spark curiosity about other places.

“For the last month or so, the students have been learning about their state and many wrote to the states for information,” Bryie said. “They spend a lot of time learning about the state, the state bird, the flag, and over the course of that month, they also work at home. The parents give a lot of support and guidance.”

Cutten Elementary School fifth-graders Makenna McNamara, left, and Burke Morrow, both 11, talk after the parade on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

The student body lined up along the walls as the parade wound its way past various classrooms before making a sharp right turn where they paraded past the cheering and clapping third-graders.

The fun of the parade and the hands-on learning provides a win-win situation for all involved.

“A lot of these kids are fortunate to have visited the states they chose,” Benbow said. “There was a lot of research involved, a lot of information from books and online went into this, and it’s a great way for them to learn about a new place.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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