project, Social studies, Student-centered

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse – A Lesson in Land Regions for Social Studies

This art from Jordan Crane hangs in my living room

I have been obsessed with zombies for a long time, not that I can watch many movies with them in it because I am wimp who gets nightmares, but books, art, and the whole concept has fascinated me for many years.   This year as I try to get my students invested in social studies and the study of the United States history we always start with land regions, so what better way than to get them researching these with the help of a zombie apocalypse?

While this is meant to be a hook, it is not meant to be a study of zombies, but rather a new way to get to know a certain land region.  Students must prepare a presentation to the citizens of their land region suggesting two possible safe places for them to go.  Before they can present they therefore have to research major cities, climate, elevations, major transportation routes, main bodies of water and anything else that can aid them in defending their citizens and riding out the attack.  I will also ask the students what else they should be researching and adding to their presentation.  Because this is our first presentation of the year I want to see which tools they have and also how they research.  Students will pick partners and then I will pair up the partnerships, this way I can also study the group dynamics.

I made sure to mention this project at back to school night to hopefully ensure parents understand the educational value behind it.  I am looking forward to seeing how the students react and will start of by showing David Hunt’s video as an introduction.  To see the student hand out (that will probably change before I am happy with it) please click here.  As always, feel free to borrow this idea, I did not invent it , I just tweaked it to fit my needs.

Update:  I cannot tell you how wonderful this project has been in my classroom.  The students have been motivated, engaged, and driven by their curiosity.  In fact, to see one student’s take on it, read her blog post.  I also created two rubrics with the help of Rubistar for the project, here is the self evaluation one and here is the presentation rubric.

Here is a video of an actual presentation by the Southeast Region group.

project, Social studies

Diary of a Revolutionary War Soldier Project

As part of an integrated curriculum, I love when students get to create, adapt, and adopt a character from the historical setting being studied.  This project was part of our social studies curriculum with lots of in-class time given to explore resources, create their character, as well as produce the final product.  Students would use the textbook as a way to build knowledge but then could branch out and use other resources as well, whether it be web-based or books.

Subjects involved:  Social studies, Writing, Reading.

Diary of a Revolutionary War SoldierMission:  To produce a 10 entry diary from the perspective of a Revolutionary War soldier with at least one letter from home.

Goal:  A book that looks and reads like a diary from a developed character.

To see the whole lesson plan, with grading rubric go here

project, Social studies

Using Animoto in Social Studies

I recently showcased a small project my students created using the fantastic Animoto website.  Now Animoto does not want student accounts, so they used mine instead, which is a free educator account.  Sorry Animoto, but I just don’t see why students shouldn’t be allowed to use your site.  Anyway,  I was asked to go into details of how these were created and the truth is, it was really simple.

  1. We brainstormed what we knew about the US Land Regions to get the kids thinking about them.
  2. I spilt the kids into 5 groups, one for each region, by picking sticks – suck it up if you don’t like your group.
  3. Then I gave the students print materials to start them off in their research  My students have a tendency to want to jump on the computer right away but I wanted them to use books first, because these books are really good.  
  4. They also got an idea sheet to get them started since this was their first project of the year.
  5. The students then had some time to brainstorm, research and search for images that they wanted to put in their Animoto.  Now they had already seen how Animoto worked because of the creation of their classroom vision.
  6. Students had different roles as decided by their group; image finder, citation expert, fact finder, fact writer (have to keep it short and snappy) and Animoto person.  I did not have them put their citations in the Animoto, instead they had it on a separate sheet for me to see.  This is important since they need to cite their sources.
  7. Once they had some research, one student would get logged into my Animoto and would be in charge of adding the pictures that they had found as well as working on the text.  
  8. The whole group would play around with the Animoto, the background, placement of facts versus pictures, etc.  It was great to see how the kids worked together successfully and some not so successfully   Everything is a learning opportunity.
  9. Once the videos were finished, the students watched all 5 of them with a scrap piece of paper and wrote down 3 facts they learned in each.  
  10. We then created big posters of all the facts we learned through the presentations.
  11. Then the students evaluated their work.  We discussed what would make a great Animoto versus a not so great one.  What type of facts should be included etc?  
  12. Students then assigned each presentation a rubric number 1 through 4 and boy, they were harsh.
  13. We finished the project discussing what we would change, how we would do it better next time and what we learned.

The last step was super important because I want my students to be teachers as well.  So it is important that they put on their teacher hats and do the evaluation.  They are often much more critical than me.  They own their work, they evaluate it, and they know what they should do better.  Sometimes we redo it, sometimes we take the knowledge and apply it to something else.  I loved seeing how engaged the students were in this project.

math, project, scale

Build a 3-D City – a math project for scale, area, and perimeter

This week we started our much anticipated week-long project with the goal of designing and building a 3-d city.  I searched the internet for plans to modify but did not come across any, so please feel free to use or modify this as you see fit.

In Everyday Math, unit 8 in 4th grade is all about area and perimeter.  The unit is very short and I therefore saw a need for concrete practice with calculations.  My husband, who happens to be a house designer and builder, agreed to co-teach this with me.

Length of project: 5 days

Materials used: 

Advance preparation:

  • We wrapped the plywood in gray paper for roads and drew in all of the lots and roads.  (We placed the wrapped plywood in the classroom a day in advance to build anticipation, it was great fun!)
  • Copies for each person as needed
  • Poster hung for Building Process
  • Lottery lot numbers made and cut out, one for each student to draw.  I worte on them lot # and what type of building.


  • Scale decided upon: 10 feet = 1 inch
  • Height of each story = 10 feet
  • There must be 10% green space left on lot
  • Single family homes must have at least 20% garage of house square footage
  • Shopping malls etc. must have 40% of square footage be parking

Day 1:

  • My husband used this presentation to reveal what the project would be, the video was stopped when “Kelly” was introduced.
  • Then he showed a slide show of different types of houses to show the students what houses could look like, again sparking that creativity.
  • We would stop and let kids get excited with each other for a couple of minutes.  
  • We made a list of math we would need to use: Scale, area, perimeter, fractions, decimals, percentages.  There may even be more, only time will tell.
  • Then time to sketch.  Some students work in teams (if they are designing/building a large building) while others work by themselves.  This is their time to try out several ideas that will fit with their requirements.
  • The rest of the class time was used on sketching, answering questions and just checking in with students.

Day 2:

  • Start out by answering any questions students may have.
  • Discuss math conversions needed by using this prezi
  • I would also sketch out at some point what it means to draw a detailed dimension plan.
  • Meet with students to see if they have everything figured out and give them architectural approval.

    Days 3-5:

    • Students design, draw, and meet to get their building permits.  
    • The process is as follows: Concept design, architectural control, permit checklist, detailed plans, building permit, build your house.
    • This is where the support will happen as students try to do the math needed for the project.
    • Obviously different levels of support are needed for this for each student, modify as you go.

    Coming soon: pictures, video and progress reports.