Thursday, November 7, 2013

Veteran's Day Project

Here is our Veteran's Day project for this year. My students really enjoyed working on it and hearing the compliments we've received from people who stop to see it. Before starting the project, we did a little research on the meanings behind the colors on the flag. Once we had some words to work with, we looked for synonyms of those words. Many of my students wrote the words on red, white, or blue hearts while a few others worked on the gold fringe. The hearts were then arranged on a 3'x4' piece of paper to make the flag.

My class is so proud of this flag. The discussion over the synonyms was meaningful and memorable!

Our flag will be displayed, along with other's projects, at our local VA Hospital this year.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Time Traveling

My second graders always surprise me! This week we read a photo essay about a girl who attends a school for deaf students. We learned some hand spelling and signs. We also read a story about Helen Keller. It was after that story that my students began to ask me questions such as:

-Is Helen Keller still alive?
-How old is she?
-Did you know her?

I decided it was a great time to get out one of my magnetic timelines and help them find answers to their questions. I've never taught timelines so early in the year, but I believe in grabbing those natural, teachable moments and riding the "interest wave" as far as I can! This was one of those moments.
Through the course of the lesson, we discussed many things. Here are a few of them:

  • place value and the 1000's place
  • counting by tens above 1000
  • counting on and back on a number line
  • how long ago Helen Keller lived
  • how long she has been gone
  • how old she was when she died
  • whether or not Mrs. Edwards was alive at the same time as Helen Keller (for 13 years!)
  • whether or not Mrs. Edwards knew Helen Keller (It's a big world! and, no, I never met her.)
We now have a foundation to build on as we explore immigration, explorers, and pilgrims later this fall. At the end of the lesson, a student raised his hand and said, "That was like traveling in a time machine!" I think I have them hooked!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Measuring the Miles on a Map

Last year, I stumbled upon a way to have my students measure the miles that Uncle Reuben traveled in his adventures in the 1920's and 30's for The Uncle Reuben Project that I thought I would share here.

We studied the map key on the large wall map that we used to mark Reuben's travels. I showed them where the key showed how long 100 miles is on that map. We talked about whether that would be the same for our small map in our notebook or the large carpet map in our classroom until I felt they understood that the map key was for that particular map only.

Then, I gave each student a 12 inch length of ribbon (the curling, gift wrap kind) and a tiny piece of paper the length of 100 miles on our map. The students marked ten 100 mile marks on their ribbons with a pen so they had 1000 miles on the ribbon.

They learned very quickly how to measure using the ribbon.

Read about their success during the first year of the project by clicking here.

The Uncle Reuben Project - Year 2

Here are some end products for year 2 from May 2013's Open House.
More about the process later! It was an exciting spring!

  • black and white dioramas
  • canoe sketches and blueprints with measurements
  • realia in the form of a 16.5 ft. canoe and two small metal models of Uncle Reuben's childhood home and school wth students to answer all of their questions
  • video interview between "Uncle Reuben" and a reporter
  • silent movie made by five 2nd graders
  • posters about the 1920's popular culture
  • photographs of transportaion from the 1920's and 30's
  • posters of students' family trees that were completed at home with their families
  • timelines of Uncle Reuben's life
  • demonstrations of how to use the scale key on a map to measure the miles
  • notebooks full of primary sources to explain to visitors
  • 20 confident seven and eight year-olds proudly talking about their newly acquired knowledge
  • one proud teacher who was already planning their next authentic learning experience in her imagination

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Challenging and Rebuilding Mental Models - Conceptual Models

My students study the road while traveling to the YMCA for swimming lessons. 


Because they have studied the route, back in the classroom, on Google Earth and are working on their mental map models!

Sometimes we have to break something in order to fix it. When someone visits a doctor for a nose injury, there is a good possibility that their nose will need to be broken again as part of the treatment.

As teachers, we must often go through the process of breaking through the misconceptions and incorrect models that our students have built, in their minds, around an academic concept. These are called mental models. And, we all have them!

What I'm calling a mental model is the representation, or picture, seen, and sometimes "felt," in the mind, when thinking abstractly. For example, the picture you see in your mind when you think about a year divided into months. Is it a line? A circle? A calendar? 

Mental models begin to develop early on in our lives and we test and correct them from then on. By the time my students get to my room, they have all kinds of models that they are using. Many are correct, but some are flawed and can cause problems when learning new concepts. 

Shari's Nerd Corner:

You might be surprised to know that everyone has a slightly different model. What I perceive may not be what you do.

I asked a friend what her model looks like (Yes, I’m nerdy like that!). It took her a minute to understand what I meant but when I asked her to show me where we are right now, (April), she looked down at the place she would put April and pointed at the space in front of her. She described a linear representation that looked like a timeline that repeated every year. When her eyes focused on the space in front of her, I knew she was experiencing what I do. The model is more than a picture. It's an invisible object that she can move and refer to in her mind. 

I suppose my tendency to drift into my Intra-personal Intelligence (Gardner) makes me more aware of these models floating around in my head, but I can't help but notice them! I've been surprised that most people I have asked about their model of a calendar year have taken the time to look and describe it to me. 

The model of a year that I see in my mind looks something like a Ferris Wheel that I travel around during the year. I move counter-clockwise around the wheel as the year goes by. Winter is at the top and summer is at the bottom but don’t ask me for details because the actual visual is a little vague. 

When I mentioned this idea to my sisters last month, one described my model in nearly every detail, which really surprised me, and the other described a timeline model with months in a row. My son describes his as a pie chart. 

What DOES your model look like?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resources for Project: Uncle Reuben

Project: Uncle Reuben begins in two weeks! I'll be posting resources as I find them on this post.
Uncle Reuben was born in 1903 and traveled the U.S. from 1925-1935. At some point I will move this information to its own page but for now, I will add to it from here.

Music for Reading Fluency Practice:

  • This Land is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
  •  How about the Charleston (they could learn the dance, too)
  • California, Here I Come (written in 1921)
  • Happy Days are Here Again
  • The Entertainer (ragtime)

I now have The Uncle Reuben Project on it's own blog site.
Click here to look - 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pondering and Inquiring

The easiest way to get young students used to asking their own inquiry questions is to practice two types of statements. 
  1. I noticed...
  2. I wonder...
I use these strategies often to help develop the art of questioning to further learning. Bringing in realia, for students to see and feel, makes this process even easier. The statements generated by students push learning further for everyone and can be used during the rest of a unit to tie everything together.

I use inquiry with realia, interesting pictures, reading passages, and informational text.

Below is an article I wrote after visiting Adena's 1st grade classroom. She kept her students wondering, noticing, and learning throughout her unit on pumpkins!

Pondering Pumpkins

Mrs. Connelly holding a pumpkin during a discussion as the children watch and discuss.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in October and 17 first graders sit on the carpet listening to Mrs. Connelly read from a book called, A Day at the Pumpkin Patch, by Megan Faulkner. Next to her rocking chair is a chart stand with a large piece of paper on it. The paper is covered with sticky notes arranged in groups. Two pumpkins sit on a table; a large one with a stem and a smaller one that is too small for a carved face. She pauses in her reading to refer to a sticky note. “I think this page might have answered one of the questions we had about our class pumpkins last week,” she says.  Then she reads from one of the notes, “I wonder why one is bigger than the other one?” Several hands pop up as a little girl infers that their smaller pumpkin is a “pie” pumpkin. Other students nod, and then, Mrs. Connelly reads on. She stops several more times to think aloud or ask questions. One little girl asks if they can make a pie with their little pumpkin. A boy raises his hand and announces that he wants to plant the seeds and grow more pumpkins in his backyard. A girl volunteers that the word “related” must mean that gourds are kind of like pumpkins.
This isn’t the first day this class has been wondering about pumpkins. Last week, when the two pumpkins arrived in the classroom, the questions and “I wonder” statements flew about the room. Each question was carefully recorded on sticky notes and the class sorted them into groups of questions that might belong together.  They had been reviewing their chart a few minutes before beginning the book so their thinking was current and their minds were looking for answers. As they started the book, Mrs. Connelly had reminded them that they were continuing their research and that is their attitude as they delved into the topic.

 First graders write in their pumpkin journals.

After finishing the book, the students return to their desks amid conversations with each other about pumpkins at their house or a trip they have taken to a pumpkin patch. They pull out and open their pumpkin journals, which are decorated with colorful pictures of first grade pumpkins. On the inside of each one is bright orange paper on which to write their wonderings and learning. Today, they are beginning their sentences with, “I learned…”
I spend some time visiting with some students about pumpkins as they share with me what they have learned. As I leave the room, I take with me some words I don’t usually hear in a first grade room. Slimy seeds inside the ribbed fruit, tendrils curling around vines, peduncles on top of pumpkins…

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Importance of Knowing Your Plants

Journey spotted this trouble making plant last summer in Missouri. I snapped the shot in hopes that it will prevent my 2nd graders from making the same mistake my former students did a few years ago...

I teach my students about plants by using wild ones that we find on the playground. Some people may call them weeds but they are readily available, free, have the same parts as any other plant, and are more interesting than you would ever believe!

That highly engaged class, nearly 20 years ago, was just learning to identify the plants on our school grounds. We were out on the playground doing a little exploring and picking out the plants we remembered when Jason came running up to me. Before I realized what was happening, he had shoved a large, bushy plant into my hand, saying, "Teacher! What is this?" I looked down out at a plant I was certain hadn't been on the playground. Within a couple of sinking seconds I had noticed the shapes and numbers of the leaves and realized what I was holding. "Jason, this is poison ivy. Where did you find it?" Jason pointed to a chain-link fence on the perimeter of the grounds. He had somehow pulled it out of a neighboring yard and through the fence!

After disposing of the plant over a wood fence into an empty lot, we all headed into the school. Not knowing who else had come in contact with it, we all washed our hands and arms with cold water and detergent and I hoped that Jason and I had been the only ones with direct contact.

We were all very lucky that spring; all but poor Jason. He was out with a severe case of poison ivy for two weeks. I had checked the school grounds over very well but had missed what was growing in the neighbor's yard.

Now, the first lesson of my plant unit is about the dangers they may encounter as we explore the grounds. We look at pictures and sketch the leaves of poisonous plants. It's actually a very intriguing way to start a unit and they all learn what they should do if they find themselves in Jason's shoes.

I also remind them not to put plants in their mouths. We never know whether or not the plants have been sprayed with herbicide or other dangerous chemicals. Allergies can also be a concern in some cases.