Monday, January 2, 2017

Creative and Critical Thinking with the Gingerbread Man

Every December, Our class gets a visitor from up north!  The Gingerbread Man comes to spend the Holidays with us!  This of course spurred an interest in the different versions of the Gingerbread Man!  The kids enjoyed comparing them and through these stories learned the story elements such as characters, main characters, setting, problem and solution.  At the end, each child wrote their own version making sure they included all of these elements. I wish I had photos of the books and their stories, but I forgot to take any!  They were so creative and their stories spanned three pages.  So many reading and writing standards are covered here!

I set out some experiences for them to explore.  Our artists created paintings and sculptures of the Gingerbread Man with gingerbread dough and loose parts.  I love making this gingerbread dough.  It makes the classroom smell amazing!

For our scientists, the kids enjoyed taking different spices and creating their own mixture by grinding them.  They also added water into a test tube and mixed the spices to see what would happen.  They loved taking the test tubes around the class so everyone could smell their "potions." Again, our classroom smelled amazing!

They created observational drawing of the clove, allspice and anise.  They are definitely getting better at drawing like a scientist when needed!  They also recorded what happened when they mixed their potions.

For our engineers, I set out an invitation to build a bridge that would get the characters to the other side of the river to try to catch the gingerbread man!  This also lead to some story telling as they acted out the story!  They came up with many different designs.  Some worked in teams and others worked independently.

I also set up an area for small world play where the kids could create a setting and retell the gingerbread story, or make up their own!

One day, we came in to find this on our Morning Message board!

The kids were so surprised!  We brainstormed what we could do to get him back!  They decided to make a large "LOST" poster.  We used interactive writing to create this one and hung it where it would be seen by everyone.  They also decided to create their own to hang all over the school.  They wanted to make sure that if anyone saw him, they would bring him to us.

We had a lot of students from other classes that were very concerned and kept asking us if we had found him yet.  We were so glad that our posters were working and being read!

When he still didn't show up, we decided to write letters to see if we could persuade him to come back.  I have to say that this is the best writing I have ever seen from them.  I told them that if Gingy couldn't read the letters, they wouldn't work.  I told them that they needed to spell sight words correctly, use spaces, write every sound they hear in "hard" words and write as neatly as they could.  Their writing blew me away.  It is amazing how well they can do if it is meaningful and authentic to them.

One morning, I told them that the people who watch the security footage sent me some pictures!  I showed them each one separately. The collective gasp was awesome!  They were so excited!

The next day I showed them this picture of him reading their letters!

Since he still hadn't come back, they decided to build traps.  We created a list as a class of different kind of traps they could create and how each worked.  Then each signed up to make a certain kind of trap!

They worked in teams to come up with plans to create their traps.

It was then time to find materials and get to work! This was a great experience for them.  Some teams had to work through team members not listening or taking over the whole project.  A lot of problem solving went on here, not only in creating a trap that works, but in working together respectfully.  In the end, it all worked out and it was great for them to see the problems that can arise when working with a team and how to deal with it appropriately.

Here are some of the traps!

They also had to test them out!  This was a very crazy part of the day, but they were all on task and so excited when they finally were able to get their traps to work!

We left them overnight and...finally, we caught Gingy! He was caught in the net trap!

We also caught his friends that we saw in the "security pictures!"

Gingy let us know that he just wanted to explore the school with his friends and he was so glad to be back.  The kids kept a close eye on him until it was time to leave for winter break.  Now Gingy is back up north until next year! It is so fun to do this each year.  The excitement in their eyes as they go through this never gets old.  I love that this age still believes in magic and I get to believe right with them!

We celebrated by decorating and eating our own gingerbread person cookies!  Most of the kids loved them but they all loved decorating them!

We then made gifts for their families.  Each child created a one of a kind ornament designed by them!  I love how colorful these turned out.  Many used patterns around their ornaments, some drew pictures, while others covered the whole ball with color!  Each one totally unique!

We also made ornaments with their jar rings, pictures and jewels.

They made handprint reindeer cards and wrote messages to their families in them.

I hope everyone enjoyed their gifts and  had a happy and magical holiday season!  See you in January!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Eagle Project: A Student-Led, Interest Based Inquiry

I work really hard to listen and observe the kids to see what they are interested in.  I like to use their interests to guide the curriculum.  I have found that when the curriculum stems from their interests, they naturally use the literacy, math, and 21st century skills needed as they explore and investigate.

From the beginning of this year, the kids had been showing an interest in bird nests.  Every time we went out on the playground, they were making nests.  They also started gathering every stick we could find in order to build a more sturdy nest in our classroom since the one on the playground disappeared every day.

Since we were still building a learning community in our room, I observed and put this on the back burner to revisit later, hoping the interest would hold.  It did!!  I put out an invitation to look closer and see what they noticed about the nests before we started building one.

I also put out an invitation to create nests in our clay area.

I predicted that maybe our nest inquiry would lead into an interest in birds so I also set out an invitation to learn more about birds to see what would happen.  A few kids were interested and enjoyed it and learned from it, but not a majority of the kids.  Birds would not be a large scale inquiry.  I decided to stick with nests and see where it would take us.

As we started a See/Think/Wonder Chart about nests, a picture of a bald eagle on its nest was noticed on our promethium board. All of a sudden, all of their questions and wonders were centered around these Bald Eagles.  You could feel their excitement as we discussed and wondered about these amazing birds of prey! I asked if they wanted to explore these eagles further and they were very excited about the prospect!

We watched many videos and live cams showing us eagles.  The kids never tired of watching these!

Based on their wonders, we created four expert teams.  The Nest Experts (for those who were originally into the nest making), The Eagle Experts, The Eagle Family Experts, and The Eagle Prey Experts.

I put out paints and clay in our Art Studio Area that would inspire them to use art to show what they notice about eagles.  I loved how many tried to show that they noticed the curved beak of the eagle!

The Eagle Experts learned that an eagle can get up to 43 inches high and have a 7 1/2 foot wing span!  They measured out the width and height of the eagle and I drew it out for them.  These birds can be massive!  They were amazed at how big they were! They enjoyed seeing how much bigger the eagles wing spans were compared to them!

They then looked closer at the feather colors and used ripped paper to create the long feathers of the wings and short feathers on its belly.  They learned that they have curved beaks and sharp talons to hunt their prey with and learned the terms predator/prey and what they mean.

The nest experts used the sticks we had been collecting and started out by throwing the sticks everywhere on a little branch I provided for them. They soon realized this wasn't going to work as all the sticks started falling off.  I loved listening to them talk about it and problem solve.  I heard terms and phrased such as "team" and "We won't give up!"  They asked to look up a picture on my iPad. I had them look closely at an eagle nest to see what they noticed.  They noticed the sticks went around the outside in a circle-like way and there was grass in the middle to make it soft.  They then watched a video on the computer of an eagle making a nest.  They noticed that she tried many places to put that one stick before she decided on where it would stay.  When they went back to the nest, they were very careful on their placement of sticks!

It was very hard and I still had to wire some pieces together to keep it from falling apart.  This team learned how amazing it is that birds can make such strong nests with just two feet and a beak!  They came to the conclusion that humans are not as good as birds when it comes to making a good sturdy nest, but we did our best and it turned out great, though fragile! They created a "Stop! Do not touch" sign.

The Eagle Family Experts wanted to show what a typical eagle family looked like. They learned that the mom eagle is bigger than the dad eagle and that the mom have one to three eggs at a time.  Both help keep the eggs warm and take care of/feed the babies. Two friends chose white clay to make an egg. One put a crack in it as though it were getting ready to hatch.

After studying the colors on the birds, they used paper tubes to create the eagle family.  They made sure the mother was bigger and that her and the father were brown with white heads and yellow beaks.  The babies were fluffy gray with black beaks.

They prey team used the computer and researched the type of animals that Eagles hunted and decided to use clay to show some examples.  

We created a web map in our room to organize our wonders and what we learned.

Here are the finished displays to show what we had learned during our inquiry!  The kids labeled and added the facts that we learned around our large eagle.

It was amazing to see where the students took this!  It was entirely based on their interests and changed with them!  It took a little while to develop into a large scale inquiry.  Not all of their interests go that far, and that is okay.  This easily could have been a small scale nest inquiry done by a small group!  I just had to listen to them, pay attention, and be willing to set out opportunities for them to explore further based on what I observed!  So far, I have noticed two other very heavy interests shared by the class as a majority.  Superheroes, and creating sounds and rhythm in different ways.  I have noticed these interests since the beginning of the year and those interests continue to be strong, so while many other small scale inquiries may be going on, after the holidays, we may start one of these!  I can't wait to see where the kids will take those interests! 

Here are some other things going on in our room! In math we are learning about making numbers up to ten in different ways to develop their number sense.  

They are also working hard to be able to write their numbers to 20.  Some are even trying to get to 100!  It took this friend 3 white boards to get to 80! Her goal is 100!

A lot is going on literacy as kids are getting very excited about how much they have learned to read and write! In writing all of the kids are working on different writing skills from drawing a story to letter/sound correspondence to spaces and punctuation!  In reading we are focusing on learning as many sight words as we can and noticing blends in words.

In our science area, the kids have expressed a new interest in potions.  I set up their first potion experiment for them.  This station will continue through the holidays.

In engineering, the blocks have been largely ignored in favor of K'nex!  After reading the book "The Most Magnificent Thing," the kids have enjoyed creating their own magnificent things and showing the class what they do and how they work!  Lots of creative and critical thinking are going on here!

Stay tuned to see what will happen next in our classroom!  You can never tell what it will be!