Q&A: Michael Manna, Lower School Social Studies Teacher

Actions is a new editorial feature from Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child. Each week we will spotlight the dedicated faculty and staff across the PK-12 campus who make a difference in the lives of OKS students and the life of the school. This week, we feature:

Michael Manna

Lower School Social Studies Teacher

Q: How does our Lower School curriculum prepare younger students for the social studies foundations they need to succeed in high school and beyond?
A: I think having subject-specific teachers at the elementary level really gives students an advantage at an early age. There are not many teachers who specialize specifically in social studies at the elementary level. I can teach students valuable information that they normally would not receive until their secondary years. I think having the strong background knowledge about historical content in grades 3-4 will only make their middle and high years easier for them. I majored in social studies and elementary education in college and I enjoy the content in which I teach, and I hope that I pass along interesting content to all my students.

Q: What has been your favorite project that you have worked on with your students, and why?
A: I do many projects throughout the course of the year and it is hard to pick just one! The third grade is currently working on a new project that I am trying for the first time this year. I teach a unit on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and I decided to have the students work in groups and create their own version of the Underground Railroad on a digital platform that Mrs. Connolly introduced to me. They can create stops and buildings and use those as their safe houses and they really seem to enjoy it so far. I did a similar project a few months ago with the fourth grade where they created their own version of the Silk Road which they created several stops with different items to trade.

Q: What does Oak Knoll School do differently that sets us apart from other schools, and why is this important?
A: In addition to being departmentalized at the elementary level, teachers at Oak Knoll have more freedom to be creative than the public schools in terms of the curriculum that we teach. I love that in fourth grade I can really focus on American History at an early age which flows smoothly into what Miss Smith teaches in fifth and sixth grade.

Q: Hands-on learning is so important for our younger students. Can you talk a bit about how you incorporate hands-on learning in your classes? Can you give us an example?
A: My students in both grades 3 and 4 complete several projects throughout the year. One example of a hands-on project is that students in third grade create their own map. I give them a choice in which they can design a map of a town, a school, a museum, a park, and there are other choices as well. Students are required to incorporate all components of a map in their project like the map key, map symbols, etc. After they create their map, I work with Mrs. Connolly on a digital platform in which the students can use their map on the computer.

Q: What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned throughout your teaching years and, when your students move up into high school, what do you want them to remember?
A: One thing that I learned is that I have many students who have strengths in different areas. If they do not remember every social studies lesson that I have taught them, I hope they do remember that I tried my best to connect with them in some way whether it be with school, sports, or other interests that they may have.

Michael Manna has been teaching at Oak Knoll School for seven years. He attended Caldwell College (Now Caldwell University) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Elementary Education while also playing on the tennis team for four years and serving on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Manna was also named New Jersey’s State Coach of the year by NJ.com and by the National Federation of High School Coaches’ Association for the 2017-2018 school year. When he is not teaching, he coaches the varsity tennis teams at Oratory Prep and Kent Place. During his free time Mr. Manna enjoys spending time with his friends from college and watching a variety of sports.

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Patti Cepparulo