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Aliens, Bigfoot, and Mermaids OH MY!

This week has been full of themed days, in the hopes that it would keep my kids entertained and engaged enough to stick with us through this distance learning.  My last post was about our venture into Unicorn day, so I thought I would keep it up and tell you about the rest of the week.  I kept with the "unknown creature" theme all week since, well, I think it is fun ;)   So here are the other three themed days we did during this short week.

Alien Day πŸ‘½

Themed days during distance learning to keep the kids interestedSince the Space X launch was supposed to happen on Wednesday (though it was eventually rescheduled to Saturday),  I thought an Alien Day went well.  We started with the video "Are Aliens Real?" from Mystery Science.  It is a very short, simple video that has lots of good information for the kids to think about regarding whether or not there are aliens living in the universe.   I took the questions that Mystery Science provided and typed them onto a slide for the kids to answer and turn in to me.

Using literature to keep the kids interested in distance learningThen, we read the story "I'm from Outer Space!" on Epic.  The story was an easy read but gave me a chance to hear some of my students reading aloud.  The kid all followed along as we read together.  We managed to get through the whole book on our Zoom lesson.
Now, one of the questions for the Mystery Science page was to draw their own alien.  So, using that as a base, I asked the kids to think about what the alien did in the story we read together.  They needed to then write their own story about the day in the life of that alien!   This was to be a NARRATIVE, written in first or third person, but telling the story.  Not just information about what an alien would do.  I asked for specific details, even using figurative language (as we have been learning that in class.)  I wanted them to be creative when using their writing skills.  They used this template here for their story.

I also assigned some things to do with the launch of the Space X shuttle that I got from Susie at Panicked Teacher.  

Bigfoot Day 😸

We started on Epic watching a 2 minute video entitled "I am a Monster:  Bigfoot".  It was a cute way to introduce the legend of Bigfoot.  (there is also a Colossal Questions video on there that is good for some nonfiction information about Bigfoot.)  Then I opened the book entitled "Bigfoot", which is a nonfiction book with all of the facts known so far about Bigfoot.  We read that aloud together over Zoom.

Theme days on Zoom to keep the kids interested in Distance LearningWe then took all of the descriptive words that the book mentioned about Bigfoot and created a bubble map.  We were sure to grab the info from the book and use it in adjective form on our Bubble Map.  They then were to take that map and independently write a descriptive paragraph about Bigfoot. (I just had them write on a Google Doc.  No pre-made template for this one, though I did link it on the Google Classroom feed for them to easily access it.) 

Next came a directed drawing of a Yeti.  While reading the story, we discovered that a Bigfoot and Yeti are basically the same creature, just that they live in different places.  So that was a good transition to this  drawing of a yeti.  We used this step by step drawing.  It was a super easy drawing to do with the kids and didn't take very long at all.  They took a picture of their final drawing and inserted it into the slide here.

After the drawing, I "took" them on two roller coaster (both Disney OF COURSE!) because they had a Yeti theme to them -- Matterhorn at Disneyland and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. We "rode" the coasters, then discussed the differences and similarities between them.  Then, just like they did during Unicorn Day, the kids filled out a Double Bubble Map comparing and contrasting the details in both coasters.

Using trips on roller coasters to keep the kid interested in distance learning

Mermaid Day  πŸ¬

This was the last day of the "mythical creature" days.  On this day I purposefully kept the assignments light, as I wanted them to finish all of the other assignments throughout the day.  

We began by discussing the most famous mermaid they knew, Ariel the Little Mermaid.  I took them on the Disneyland ride, just to remind them of the basic story line.  We then listed the basic story points from beginning to end. (I just wrote them on my whiteboard.  The kids didn't copy this down.)  

Then on Epic, I found The Little Mermaid tale that is very close to the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, without the violence.  We read that aloud together on Epic.  I used this opportunity to hear all of the kids read.  It was a good way to get some fluency in.

Afterwards, we discussed how the endings of all the tales were different.  I had mentioned how in the original tale the mermaid just becomes sea foam and that is the end.  We talked about why the authors for all of the stories might have changed the endings each time.  The kids had some interesting ideas about the authors' motivations.  I then gave the students the assignment of rewriting their OWN ending to the story of the little mermaid.  They were to be creative and think about how they thought it should end.  It was to be a NARRATIVE ending, so a true story ending, not an informational this-is-what-happens type of thing.  I just had them type on a Google Doc (no pre-made template on this one.)

Theme Day:  Mermaids!We then watched the short Colossal Questions video entitled "Are Mermaids Real?" and looked at the evidence presented there.  I then used that video and wrote some easy comprehension questions that the kids could answer, using the video as evidence.  They were to use the RACE strategy and answer these with evidence from the video.

Finally, for a little creative spin, I asked the kids to create their own Mermaid tail (similar to those blankets many of the kids have) giving it a personal twist.  The were to use this mermaid tail template (or just draw their own) and decorate it with colors and designs that were personal to them.  The kids got a chance to be creative and have a little fun!  They came out so cute!!


And that was that!  We have a lot of fun over these three days (four if you count Unicorn Day from the other post!)  It was something that kept the kids focused and on task, as well as kept them interested in our class.  Zoom went so smoothly and flowed well.  I can't wait to do more of these over the next few weeks!



Unicorn Day: A Thematic Approach to Distance Learning

Engaging the students over Zoom with Theme days, like Unicorn DayThe end of our year is fast approaching and my kids are getting restless through distance learning. Who can blame them?  After 9 weeks of this, it is starting to wear us all down.  So I decided to take a bit of a thematic approach to things this week and, so far, it is a hit!  I will be doing theme days each week, so come back every day to read about the lessons I did (and pick up the digital links so you can do the same)
Unicorn Day πŸ¦„
Unicorn Day schedule and linksI started the week with a unicorn theme.  Why?  Well, because I saw that Mystery Science had this mini-lesson entitled "Are Unicorns Real?" and that got my brain turning.  So I set out to find (or create) a few assignments that went along with the unicorn theme.

Over Zoom, I began my lesson by reading the book Unicorn (and Horse).  I found it on Epic but you can get it here on Amazon with my affiliate link if you would like to use the actual book.  Before we began reading, I asked the students to listen for things the author mentioned that were different about the two main characters (Unicorn and Horse) and what character traits they had in common.  We read the book together over Zoom, pointing out character traits as we went.  Then, the students were asked to work on a Double Bubble Map, comparing and contrasting the two characters.  
Distance learning Unicorn Day response to literature

Next, using this free resource from Proud to be Primary, we did a directed drawing of a unicorn together.  When I am doing these drawings over Zoom, I like to keep them simple and to the point.    This one was easy enough for my students to follow along with me without getting tripped up on over complicated steps.

Using a science video on Unicorn Day to grab my students interest via Distance LearningWe then continued with the Mystery Science mini-lesson I mentioned above.  (this link is active until June 30, but I will update the link if it gets changed come fall.)  We watched the video together and, afterwards, we talked about a bit of the evidence presented in the video.  I asked them to tell me what the video was discussing as far as reasons unicorns might have been thought to be real.  I then used the questions that Mystery Science added and put them on this slide so my students could turn them in.

Finally, I wrote a nonfiction comprehension passage for my students to read and respond to.  They were to use the RACE strategy to answer three rather simple questions from the text.

Are Unicorns Real?  Comprehension passage (FREE)

And that is it!  All in all, this took us a total of 30 minutes on Zoom and then the kids had the rest of the day to complete the independent assignments.   If you would like to do this in your room, you can pick up the files and digital links I used here :)

Come back tomorrow for more files to go along with our ALIEN DAY!

Taking a Trip on a Paper Roller Coaster

Digital and hands-on project to get the kids learning about force and motion by building a roller coaster.One good thing that is coming out of distance learning is that my creative juices for engaging lessons has been reignited.  Not that it was ever completely gone, but the desire to really get my learners fully engrossed in our 30 minute a day lesson opportunities, and have them coming back day in and day out (when it would be easier not to) has made me really try to think outside the box in my lesson planning.  And teaching about force and motion (as well as my social studies lessons) was a great place to start.
I have been super into "field trips" on Zoom.  I upload a background of a place I would like to visit and use the green screen to make my teaching space look like that.  For this particular "field trip" we were in the science lab at our school.  There, I showed the students the Mystery Science lesson on Force and Motion.  (it is free right now during the shut down)  Now, this particular lesson focuses on the ideas of gravity and friction being forces that move us all.  It focuses on slides, not coasters, but that is ok.  The kids got the science background knowledge we needed to go into the next part of our lesson.  

The next day, we revised these ideas, but back in our "classroom" (I used a pic of my room for this.)  The kids filled out a digital Force anchor chart that I sent to them.  I then put up a pic of a bus and said we were headed off somewhere fun.....Disneyland!  We immediately were inside, looking at Goofy's Sky School ride and went on (I told them we had a fast pass πŸ˜‚)  As the ride was going, I was pointing out areas where gravity was clearly pulling the ride down and where friction was stopping it and slowing it down.  This is a great ride for that because there are SO many spots of both forces.  

I then told them that they were going to build their OWN roller coaster!  They immediately got excited.  You could see their eyes light up at the chance to build something at home.  Until I laid out the rules:

1.  It could ONLY be made of paper 
2.  It could only have tape to bind it together

The kids were a little dismayed at the idea that paper and tape were the only materials they could us, but they stepped up to the challenge.

Over the next 6 days, I took the kids on A LOT of roller coasters.  We went all over the city of Los Angeles, the state of CA, and the country.  We even headed outside of the US.  Every time we went on a coaster, I would search on youtube for a front row POV of that roller coaster.  It just made it more real for the kids.  They could pull up really close to their monitor and pretend that they were on the coaster.  As the coaster was going, I would be pointing out where friction and gravity were taking hold.

Each day we would talk about how their own coasters were going.  We would go brainstorm how they could best use the paper to create a twirlly-whirlly experience for their marble. 


Come the day of the presentations (on Zoom) every one of my 24 kids were there.  And they BLEW ME AWAY!  These kids got so into it.  Their coasters were tall, had loops, had clear areas of gravity taking over and friction stopping the marble.  It was amazing to see and I loved every minute of it!

Once the presentations were over, I set them off to reflect upon their designs.  How could they improve?  What was successful?  We brainstormed and they reflected.  It was great seeing the science sinking in and engineering ideas coming out.  


All in all, this was the perfect project for the kids to do at home, on their own, during this distance learning.  It forced us all to be more creative in how we presented things and got things done....and I loved it!   If you would like the resource I used to do all of this (with the instructions, lesson plans, digital student sheets, and rubric), you can find it here.

Have you done anything special since distance learning has started?  I would love to hear about it!

5 Ways to Engage Students in Distance Learning

5 in the trenches useful tips to use with students during distance learning
Keeping kids motivated during this distance learning venture has been quite a challenge. I want them to be engaged with me and our class, whether it be via live instruction on Zoom, by submitting work on Google Classroom, emailing with me, or through their written work in printed form. But all of those channels have become very old, very fast.  So I have tried hard to do things that will keep the kids coming back day after day.



πŸ’‘Idea 1:  Take Students on "Field Trips" with the Green Screen

Distance Learning field tripNow this is something that I NEVER EVER EVER thought I would do.  I am NOT in any way, shape, or form a "classroom transformation" teacher.  But I am a thematic teacher.  I love a good theme.  So with the technology of Distance Learning, adding a green screen to my wall and using Zoom to take my kids places is EASY!    I have done a few field trips so far, and all of them have been a huge success.  I took my kids to Disney California Adventure, rode Soarin' Over California, and began a social studies research project through a Disney lens with the kids. (you can read in greater detail about it here)  I took my students on a week-long trip around Los Angeles, visiting important and iconic sites, while practicing our fluency, math skills, science, and reading.  We went on a roller coaster tour, actually "riding" roller coasters (via youtube) and did a science project on friction and gravity.  

Engaging third graders in Zoom by taking them on a virtual trip around the city for social studies


These are things I would never be able to do in my room.  Utilizing the green screen keeps the kids engaged and interested.  They love seeing where I will "be" each day.  Sometimes, I just use it to show a picture of our classroom, but usually, I use it to create a sense of fun and excitement through virtual "field trips".

πŸ’‘Idea 2:  Send E-cards

Every once in a while, as a little reward for participation on Google Classroom, I send the students an E-card from American Greetings to brighten their day.  I happen to have an account with American Greetings, but there are SO many companies that have free E-cards you can send.  These are just fun and they brighten the day of the kids.  They keep asking when I am going to send another one!

πŸ’‘Idea 3:  Weekly Reports and Email to Kids and Parents

Distance learning weekly reportSending home reports to each student has really been a game changer for my class.  At times, the reason the kids aren't as tuned in as they could be is because the PARENTS aren't as tuned in. I don't blame them. This is a hard time for all of us.  So sending home a one page report to the parents, with all of the key information they need to know in one place really has made a huge difference in how we all interact and communicate.  It is keeping everyone engaged and focused during our online learning adventure.  If you would like to get a copy of these reports that I am using, you can click here.

I am also sending weekly check-in emails to the students on their school email.  This is a place where I am simply talking to the kids.  I ask them questions about things going on and they write back to me.  We are having a little "journaling" conversation, which has been a great way to keep the kids engaged with me on a more personal level.


πŸ’‘Idea 4:  Enlisting "Guest Speakers"

Kids get tired of seeing me all the time.  I know that is hard to believe, but it is true 😜  So one thing I did was ask for guest speakers to come into our classroom and help out.  I had author Adam T. Newman, who wrote How to Catch a Cold and other books talk to my class about what it takes to be an author.  I also have had guest readers read picture books to my students.   Adding in a new face really engages the kids in a way that I simply can't.









πŸ’‘Idea 5:  Add Emojis to the Google Classroom Feed


This is silly, but adding just a bit of color to that drab and boring assignment feed really helps all the kids engage with the work that is being assigned.  They look forward to seeing what emoji I will add for each assignment.  It is just a small way to keep things fresh.  To add emojis, you can go to emojicopy.com (or if you are on a Mac, press control + command + space bar and they will pop up), find the emoji you want to add, copy and paste it into your Assignment and type like normal.  It is easy as pie and adds so much color to your drab feed!


So there you have it.  Five ways that I have tried to spice up Distance Learning so that the kids continue to be engaged.  What have you done to get your students more involved in your online classroom?



Communicating with Families Long Distance


Weekly Report One Pager, perfect for distance learningOne thing that has changed quite a bit during this distance learning venture is how I communicate with my students and families.  So much of what I did was face to face feedback.  We would talk and discuss and work together *in person* to make work better and ensure that learning was taking place.  Now, though, that just isn't possible.  
Since I am not seeing my students and their families face to face like I was before all of this distance learning began,  keeping the lines of communication open between myself and everyone is even more important now than it was before.  Conferencing with kids about the work they need to do or catch up on is more difficult now.  Parents knowing exactly what is and what isn't done is much harder.  Everything is just different.

Weekly Report One Pager designed specifically to keep us all on the same page for distance learning.So in order to keep us all on the same page, I started using these Weekly Report One Pagers with my families. They are a simple, one page document I made on Power Point that I fill out each week and send to the families via email.  They can see on one page exactly what assignments are due, what had been graded, and read some comments from me.  This has helped to sum up our week and keep us all moving along together.  No one feels in the dark or disconnected, and learning is able to move smoothly.

I love the feedback space where I can write some good things I see and areas to work on.  Each week, I change out the headings to match better what we are working on.  For example, one wee I might be focusing more on turning work in over participation, so those headings would get changed.  I also take a screenshot of the Missing Assignments page and the Graded Assignments page on Google Classroom.  I find that those two areas are the most needed for everyone to see, so I highlight that. It gives everyone more of a focus to work on, instead of saying "just do your work". This becomes like our "Must Do" list and allows everyone to prioritize things better.  

Since implementing these, I feel like parents have been less stressed too.  It just keeps everything organized and in one place, and nothing is getting lost in the clutter that has become online learning.  

Would you like a copy of these FREE and EDITABLE Weekly Report One Pagers to use?  You can grab them free by filling out this form below.


FREE Weekly Report One Pagers

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