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US Symbols: Tech Meet Art

After learning about the three branches of government, my students were ready to move on to learning about the symbols in the United States that mean so much to us as Americans.  I took this opportunity to also get my students working collaboratively on Google Slides.  
We began by pulling out our social studies books and reading about the various symbols that have made an impression on our American culture.  Things like the Statue of Liberty, the bald eagle, the White House, and even holidays such as Veteran's Day, were all symbols that featured in our reading.  

I then paired my students up and assigned them one of the US Symbols.  The kids were asked to create a Google Slide in which they both were added on (basically, one student started the slide.  Then she shared the slide with her partner using the partner's email address.  That slide then showed up in the partner's Google Drive and both students could work on it at the same time.)  Once the slide was created and shared, I told the students that each slide needed to contain the following:
10 facts about the assigned symbol (facts related to that object as a symbol)
One picture of the symbol
A large title naming the symbol

The rest (fonts, backgrounds, colors, etc) was up to them.  To insure the kids found appropriate  information about the symbols, I told the kids to search google with "Statue of Liberty for kids".  Adding on the "for kids" at the end helped more kid-friendly websites pop up.  
The kids worked together, on their own computers, looking up information and transferring it to the slide.  I am SO impressed with their skill at maneuvering from tab to tab and getting the proper information on the slide.  Since this was my third graders' first time collaboratively working on a slide, we did have to have several conversations about not deleting the work of others and helping each other as we were working.

After the slides were complete (which took about 3 days of work), I gave each group a clip art of their symbol (or something that would represent their symbol -- like fireworks for the Fourth of July) and some construction paper.  Working together on the same clipart, the kids created a tear art mosaic of that US Symbol.  They just used glue stick and construction paper.  The kids LOVED this part and it made for a cute art add-on to the research.

The final part of this was sharing out their information to the class.  They got to work on their speaking and listening skills too.  All in all, this was a great way to get social studies, research, tech, and art into our classroom.  

Writing: Knowing the Genres

The other day, I assigned my students the following writing prompt:
What if you were a fly on the wall?  What would happen to you if you were?  
What would you do if you were a fly on the wall?

I expected my students to write a narrative story about a time when they were magically turned into a fly on the wall and all of the mischief they would get into.  What I ACTUALLY got back from them were a lot of informational paragraphs listing various, random, non-connected ideas of what could happen to them.  

I realized that I had not been clear with my students about the differences between the genres of writing.  When they were asked to write a narrative, my kids just didn't know what that meant.  They didn't realize that just writing ANYTHING wasn't enough.  They had to write within the correct genre for their response to be counted as correct.

The kids tend to just write and not think about the subtle differences between the three genres -- narrative, informational, and opinion -- that they are being asked to write in.  Often times, they are being asked to write a narrative story, but end up just listing facts, turning their writing into an informational piece.  Or they are asked to write their opinion on a topic and end up telling a story about said topic.   I decided enough was enough and set out to really get through to my kids within these genres.

I started out by creating a three tier chart with my kids.  On that chart, I listed the characteristics of each genre.  What makes that specific genre unique and different from the others.  For example, a narrative is a story with a beginning, middle, and end while discussing EVENTS, whereas an opinion piece will be riddled with REASONS as to why the opinion is valid.  To make it easier for them (and their readers) to know which genre they were writing in,  I also added basic "key words" that might be found within the writing piece.  

Then, we went back to the original prompt.  I asked them how we could make sure that what we were writing was NARRATIVE instead of INFORMATIONAL.  With some gentle prodding and leading, I was able to get the kids to see that we need events and a story line in a narrative.  That they had to be turned into a fly somehow, fly from wall to wall, encountering things, and then have some sort of ending.  I showed them how this was different from just listing possibilities of what might happen if they were a fly on the wall -- as they were already writing.
The kids seemed to get it, and they were off to the races writing their narrative.  This time around, I did get stories back from them.  They were imaginative, had events, and told the beginning, middle, and end.  They were definitely and clearly different than the informational writing I originally received.

Since we were at it, I asked the kids to then write an opinion piece.  Would you like or dislike being a fly on the wall?  This time the kids knew that they needed to pick a side and have REASONS for their choice.  There was no right or wrong, as long as they could support their reasons with evidence or examples.  Again, the kids consulted the chart and made sure they kept their writing within the genre.

I have to say, I LOVED what transpired from all of this.  What started as a disaster, turned into a glorious teaching moment.  So I decided to keep up with this theme and idea.  I came up with 10 more prompt topics (a total of 30 prompts) for the kids to focus on writing across the genres.  First up, since we were learning about the Branches of Government, we wrote opinion, informational, and narrative pieces on that topic.  I gave them a brainstorm sheet so they could organize their thoughts within the genre specifically for each prompt.  I put the chart points on each piece of writing paper for them so they had the key ideas for each genre right on the paper.  (you can pick up the Branches of Govt one for F R E E  here). 

For the rest of this year, I am going to keep hitting this idea hard.  I have lots of prompts ready to go form them, and excited to see where this all leads.  My hope is that they will get those differences between the genres engrained in them.  You can pick up the prompts I am using, and all of the graphic organizers and lesson plan, here.  

Elapsed Time Number Lines

I don't know why it is, but teaching elapsed time is just so hard!  The concept seems so foreign to the kids, though they deal with it on a daily basis.  I am really stumped as to what makes this so difficult for them to grasp and figure out.  So, to help make the idea more concrete, I whipped out some good old sentence strips and had the kids practice with concept with their own life as an example.
I asked them to think about a typical weekday afternoon.  From 2pm until 6pm (so when they get out of school until dinner-ish), what did they normally do?  They needed to think of 4 events that would happen during that time.  Could be doing homework, baseball practice, riding in the car home....anything that they do within that four hour window.  

The kids then needed to guesstimate what time they start the activity and what time they end the activity.  Those times were written on the recording sheet.  The kids then calculated how long that time frame was.  The found the elapsed time!  They did that with all 4 events. 

The students then created a number line using a sentence strip.  They began the number line (which was a sort of time line...get it? TIME line?? ;) ) with 2pm and ended it with 6pm, using 1 hour intervals in between.  They used blank clocks and drew the time for both the beginning and ending of each event.  Then the students glued those clocks onto the number lines.

All in all, this  really was a great way to get the kids practicing with elapsed time, using number lines, AND showing time on an analog clock, all in a real life way.  The kids really liked this activity and were eager to show their work with time off!  You can get the printables I used with this activity here.

Water Cycle Narratives with a Bit of Tech

Teaching about the Water Cycle is something that I do year in and year out, so each year I try to do something new and different if, for no other reason than to keep my own brain active and engaged. This past year, I combined the science of the water cycle with narrative writing and technology and, dare I say it, came up with a winner!

Of course we started with learning all about the Water Cycle during science lab.  You can see some past science lessons here and how I incorporated the Teach Me Something projects into those lessons to get the kids creatively thinking about the way the water cycle works here.

Once the kids knew all about how the water cycle works, I asked them to apply that knowledge by writing a narrative.  They were to pretend that they were a water droplet making their way through the various stages of the water cycle.  Within the context of a fictional narrative, they needed to include all of the science words that we had learned up until that point AND go through all stages of the water cycle (we learned that water can skip stages, or stay in one stage for a really long time...I didn't want them to include that in the narrative).  To help them along, I gave them this nifty little brainstorm sheet that helped them to map out their story, while keeping it in a basic order.

After the narratives were written, and subsequently typed, I asked them to get a little creative in the computer lab.  I took four separate pictures of each student posing as the water droplet in each stage of the water cycle.  Using the app Green Screen Magic, the students superimposed themselves into a picture that represented the various stages of the water cycle (they googled "evaporation" or "condensation" etc to find pictures they felt were appropriate and matched their narrative as best as possible.)

Once those google images were found, and the kids put themselves into the pictures, they then inserted the pics into their typed narratives.
As an added bonus, I had them google a generic water cycle picture and put all four pictures of themselves into that picture as well.

All in all, this came out great.  The narratives were amazing.  The pictures were spectacular.  The entire project, when put together, was a show-stopper.  

Framed Family Portrait: Holiday Gift Idea

Each year, I try to have my students create a gift for their parents that showcases their creativity, is something the families will remember, and won't cost me an arm and a leg.  This year, I blew myself out of the water with our end product ;)  

I really didn't have a lot of time to have the kids create a present this year.  With everything else going on, the holiday just snuck up on me.  So I needed something quick.  I went to the Dollar Tree and picked up 23 $1 frames and a roll of foil.  

I asked the kids to draw (on paper first) a family portrait.  They could draw whatever that meant to them, but I basically wanted a picture of their family in some sort of background.  The kids were so creative in their interpretation of this.  Some drew winter scenes.  Others drew their house.  Still others just drew their families outside.

Then, they transferred that drawing onto the glass of the frame using black sharpies to outline, followed by colored sharpies.  I had them take the glass off the white paper a color on the table about half way through the coloring.  This helped them to really see the "blankness" of their drawing and encouraged them to fill in more of the space with color.

When it was all colored, the kids wrapped the back of the frame in foil (since it was a cheap dollar store frame, there was no cardboard insert or anything. I just had the cardboard backing.)  The foil behind was a nice, depth-adding touch that really brought it all together, instead of the cardboard backing showing through.  They placed the glass back into the frame with the drawing side facing inward, replaced the backing, and viola, they had a finished product!

That was it.  All in all, this cost around $26 with tax.  It was super quick (only taking around 90 minutes) and the kids LOVE it.  I displayed them around the room for a day just so everyone could see them all.  This is definitely one I will be doing with the kids in the future.

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