Then and Now; Drama to Assess Learning

We continued our mind-mapping activity from yesterday with a little drama piece as a form of assessment.  Drama is one of my favorite tools to use for assessment.  Kids love it, it makes them excited, and you can really see who knows the content and who doesn't.

The central question that we have been looking at this week was Why did the population of the Earth explode in the last 200 years?  Our mind-maps from yesterday helped us sort out a variety of reasons.  Today, we focused on three; Advances in Medicine, Advances in Farming Technique, and Advances in Transportation.  We made a large class mind map and made connections between the three reasons.  Our discussion was lively and in-depth.


After that, they broke off into groups, one of each topic.  They had to write a short skit from two perspectives; from 400 years ago, and from now.  These two skits would compare a common problem that people might have had.  For example, the medicine team chose to talk about someone who was in an accident 400 years ago versus today.

Once we had our skits made, we got out some cardboard and made some puppets!  They then had to present their skit, using the puppets and backgrounds that they made.  We videotaped the presentations and I will edit it all together as a movie.


I was looking for an ability to describe how a difficult situation in the past would have led to many deaths and suffering, when a similar situation in our current time is more easily solved.  To that end, it was a successful lesson, and drama really helped bring it out.


MindNode for Mac and Diagnostic Assessments

This is the start of our new unit on Over-Population and the World we live in.  Over the course of three periods of study, we started this unit by Tuning In to what the students already know.  This unit will have a strong tech and critical thinking focus; and I used the following tools over the course of today's lesson:

MindNode for Mac

SmartBoard Notebook Software

Internet Browsing for Videos and Visual Graphics

Class Wiki for On-Line Reflection Journal

This unit was kicked off with a little critical thinking and visualization.  I presented an image to the class; a hand dropping fish food into a bowl with a couple of fish in it.  The food was more than enough to sustain the fish for three days, and after three days, the hand would reappear and drop more food into the bowl.  I asked the students to imagine they were fish.  What would life be like?  How would they survive?

After a couple of minutes discussion, I added ten more fish to the bowl (on the Smartboard, use the infinite clone option and copy the image).  They continued to talk and I jotted down key words like hunger, fight, sharing, shortage.  After another couple of minutes, I added fifty more fish to the bowl, and again listened and copied down key words that they said.

Once we finished this, I explained that this was a metaphor for the overpopulation of the Earth.  I printed off the Smartboard image and gave it to them, and asked them to label everything they saw in the image.  What do the fish represent?  The Bowl?  The food?  The water?  The hand?

Each student had their own interpretation, but for the most part this is what transpired:

Fish = People
Bowl = City or Planet
Water = Water, fuel, space
Food = Available food to humans

Once we got the Hand however, we had some difference of opinions. What does the hand mean? Whose hand is it? Why does it only give one scoop of food when there are more fish? Over the course of the rest of the unit, I hope that we will have a clearer picture of what the Hand is.


Next, I showed them the video 7 Billion, from National Geographic (http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/specials/sitewide-redesign/ngm-7billion.html).  We watched only the first half, which puts that large number into perspective.  The second half is all about how the inequities of our world relate to issues like Hunger, Power, and other top-topic issues.  I decided to not show this because we need to come to these conclusions on our own, not have them fed to us by the good people at National Geographic.

After the video, we looked at a graph that shows the massive population increase:


Then, I asked them a simple question; what accounts for the massive increase in population?  We had a brief discussion about our Ancient Civilizations unit that we finished earlier in the year, and imagined how life was better now than it was back then.  What factors would lead to more people?

Finally, they opened the program Mindnode on their MacBooks (I am in a 1:1 classroom, and Mindnode is a great freeshare mind-map program) and created a mind-map that hiligthed the main issues.  After finishing, we shared our maps and had a class discussion about the decisions we made, and made a reflection on the process in our on-line journal.



Desktop Organizer

I have been fiddling around with desktop background for some years now.  For a while it was a picture of Buckminster Fuller:

Then I got tired of looking at him and I suspected he was sick of looking at me too.  I found myself moving folders around so I wouldn't cover up his face (because that's just rude) and so I switched to a nice backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

Alas, that made me want to head off to Whistler for a weekend of snowboarding, so I had to switch again.  Also, my blue folders kept getting lost in the icy waters of Lake Louise.  I flip-flopped back and forth between various pictures of nature, my son, stock MacBook photos and cars (I have no idea why, I hate cars).  Eventually, I got sick of changing and rethought the whole purpose of a desktop photo.  Why can't it work with me instead of against me?

Here is what I came up with last night at about 11:30pm (yes, this is what I do in my spare time).  I went into PowerPoint and made some nice neat boxes, gave them labels that made sense to me and would allow me to neatly organize all my folders and icons.  Then, I saved it as a JPEG image and set it as my desktop image.

Desktop Organizaer

VOILA!  Problem solved.  Desktop organized.  All I do now is throw the icons into the necessary box and I can easily find them.  When you save or download something new, it goes to the top empty position, which is a white strip to the right of the boxes.  From there, I drag it to the proper folder.

I can't believe I wasted a half an hour of my life thinking about this.


Box-Ball; Child Created Games

We started our unit on Games today in our PE class.  It was good fun and I highly recommend it.

To kick it off we brainstormed the Elements of a Game with the simple question, what makes a good game?  Once we had some ideas, we used MindNode, which is some freeware software for a Mac that creates graphic mind-maps.  We got out our MacBooks and plugged in our information:

Elements of Games

Once we had this set, we came up with a list of games that fit this criteria and scattered them down on a piece of paper.  After we had a satisfactory number, we made connections by drawing a circle around two games and linking them with a line based on some kind of similiarity.  Next, we did a Think/Pair/Share and explained our reasoning for linking two games (for example, Golf and Running are similiar because it is an individual game where you compete against many people).

For the next portion of the lesson, I put out several random items from the supply closet; a box, a ball, and some ping pong paddles.  I then asked them to make a game that fulfills the requirements we made in our mindmap.  The kids came up with so many ideas.  After this, we played the game for about 20 minutes, and then afterwards reflected on the game, asking yourselves it matched the elements, and how we can tweak the rules to make it better.

Finally, we got out our MacBooks again, and made a poster to illustrate the game using Pages; organizing all our ideas into a coherent set of rules and explanations.

Box Ball

This first day was done as a group, but starting next week we will begin developing our own individual games, and we continue to think about what makes a good game, reflecting along the way and expanding on our mind-map.  I hope to continue the tech integration and have each student develop their own poster, and then publish them all in a class game book or website.


Tech Badges

I have been tracking our use of technology this year by making a poster to show all the technology integration we have used.  So far, a little more than halfway through the year, here is what we have so far.  I plan to print this out and give it to each student at the end of the year, as a way for them to remember what projects and programs we have been using.  In the future, I hope to do this in an interactive way, so that when you click on each badge, a description of how we used it appears.  In our classroom we have a large poster set up next to the SmartBoard, and we continually update it when we try something new.



Teaching Strategies

Here is a graphic organizer I made to try and sort out all the teaching strategies I have complied over the year.  I keep this on my desk, and it is quite useful.  Feel free to download the PDF here: Teaching Strategies Desk Guide

Feel free to share any more that you know of.

Bob's Bird-seed

Here is a great problem adapted from Contexts for Learning Mathematics by Cathy Fosnot


The key to this problem is using the landmark fraction of 5/8 to find the rest of them.  Thinking about the numbers in terms of money is very helpful, as it contextualizes the problem into something that is more easily understood.  The next great aspect of it is that it forces the children into making a table, or a ratio comparison chart.

Where to start?  Some students will look right away at 5/8 and see that we can easily find the 90kg bag by just making an equivalent fraction (5 x 18 =90 and 8 x 18=144, therefore the 90kg bag costs $144.

The easiest way to do this problem is to find the landmark fraction for 10kg a bag.  Though 10kg is not on the list, the fact that customers scoop their own bags leads you to believe that 10kg would be possible.  So, if we take our initial 5/8, and make an equivalent fraction (5x2=10 and 8x2=16, therefore a 10kg bag costs $16).  With this information we can solve for 1kg, again by using equivalent fractions.  We find that 1kg costs $1.60.  From here, the rest falls into place using equivalent fractions and multiplication (or division).

Great problem solving skills, though it will need a lot of previous scaffolding in using equivalent fractions.


Read Aloud with Audio Books

I read to my class everyday.  My message is clear; no matter how busy you are in life, there is also an extra 20 minutes to spare to just sit and read a good book.  We read novels.  Sometimes they are quick, something they take a bit longer.  At the moment, we are working on The Hunger Games, which is fantastic!  They are really into it, and making some great connections to our world and other books we have read.

Today, my voice was feeling a bit hoarse today and my throat hurt.  I took a moment at lunch and found my copy of the audio book of the Hunger Games.  I spend a couple more minutes and found the point we were at.  When the kids came back I hit play and we all listened to Suzanne Collins read us the book.  It started off wonderfully.  They thought it was quite cool that the author of a book they love was reading it to them!

However, it was not the same.  I noticed the interest fade away and some of the eyes start to wander around the class, staring at the walls, the posters; but not listening.  I still paused at important points to clarify or ask questions, but the engagement was nothing like it usually was.

Nothing against Ms. Collins, she has a lovely voice, but I found it to be a poor substitute for actually reading the book yourself.  The pacing, the pronunciation, the pauses; it was not tailored to their needs.  When I read I routinely change words or add another layer if the original was not clear enough, or I feel the students might miss a valuable point that may have been lost in language or metaphor that was above their level.  Of course, I always try and read the difficult passages and we break them down and talk about it, but sometimes when you are in the midst of an exciting scene and are absorbed, the last thing you want is to stop and talk about the finer points of grammar and metaphor.

Perhaps I approached it wrong.  Has anyone used Audio-Books with their kids (I teach grade 5)?  Any tips or tricks?

Arigato for any advice.


Wordle and the Theme

I have never been a big fan of Wordle.  It looks pretty, and it lets us see the big picture, but I never saw it as more than just an 'oh wow, that looks cool' type of thing.  Until today.

I found this Wordle is a Google search.  I put it up on the board as a title page for our lesson on determining the theme.  It was just up there to look pretty, I had no intention of using it for anything other than a title page for my SmartBoard slideshow.  Then, a student was staring at it and started to make up the story. "I think it is about a war, a bunch of soldiers are stuck near a bridge and want to go home, but they can't".  Another student jumped in and put some more information in, and then another and another.  Before you know it, we had an outline of a great short story.  We used this to talk about what the theme of such a short story would be, what is a theme, how the theme will never show up on something like Wordle (and why), and what are the elements of writing about an effective theme.  It was a great accidental lesson!

I also found a newspaper article about a JetPack that runs on water power, and put it into Wordle, but I didn't tell them what the article was about.  Using their powers of inference, they detected what the story was about, created the shell of a story, and then determined their own theme that would shape their writing and give it character.


February 2 - Finding the Connections

Here is a great activity for making connections in literature and determining the theme.

We watched the movie The Red Balloon (you can use anything).  While the students are watching the movie, each child has a piece of paper in front of them.  On the piece of paper they write down feelings, observations, ideas, or just words that they think are related to the story.  For example, during The Red Balloon, we had words like, fun, peaceful, children, free, curious, amazing, etc.

Once the film is finished ask them (in pairs or individually), to draw a line between words that they think are connected.  They can make it look pretty with colors if they wish!  On the line, write why you think these two words are connected.  Give a decent amount of time to work with this, and they will come up with some great ideas.  Once finished, they can switch partners or get into different groups and do a sharing jigsaw, where they explain their thinking to someone else.

We took it a step further and I asked them to choose one word that they think represents the theme of the film, and write a journal entry explaining why.

Try it out.  Or if not, watch the movie.  It is fantastic!

The Red Balloon