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.

being a teacher, inspiration, Social studies

The Mystery Box

Today, I was mean to my kids.  I taped a 10 foot by 8 foot square off on the carpet before they came to school and then I said nothing.  Just watched them as they drew their own conclusions as to why this mysterious box was taped.  I had not thought much of the placement of my box, just needed one, and so it was by chance it was by our fabulously exciting crayfish.  The kids latched onto this coincidence as if it was the missing piece to the puzzle.  “It is to keep us away from the crayfish,” offered one.  “Or for us to know where to stand?”  Or my favorite, “We are going to have a crayfish race!”  This one took on a life of its own as the kids then discussed how that would be possible since our crayfish can only be out of water for about a minute.  Some offered solutions and others shot it down, but all through the day, the mystery deepened.  During literacy, when I introduced our new author study project, we happened to sit in part of the box.  “It is for us to sit in!” the kids exclaimed.  I shook my head and smiled.  I finally told the kids that maybe I did it just to drive them crazy, one student told me I wouldn’t be that mean.

Finally, at the end of the day after I had been asked more than thirty times what the box was for, the big reveal came.  P.E. was done, the students were fidgety and I waited for absolute silence.  Then the Native American simulation script started and the lightbulbs went off.  “It is for the settlers, it is for the settlers,” was the excited murmur running around the room.  Mystery solved…

Incredible what some masking tape on the floor can do for an otherwise fidgety Monday morning.

choices, Social studies, Student-centered, technology, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Early Explorers on Facebook

My overarching theme for this year has been student-centered learning, so putting the focus back on students rather than me talking them through the learning.  So as I prepped social studies over the break, I realized that I could not just tell my students about the first explorers in Wisconsin; they had to research it and present.  But how to do this without it being another research project with a report attached?

We have just finished a formidable Native American research unit, discussed here, where students took full control of their own learning.  As said by my students, this proved to be one of the best experiences for them this year, so I knew there had to be control relinquished to them.  I also have very set perimeters for the project because it does have to fit into the information presented in the chapter in social studies book.  So students will be creating two separate projects. 

The first project will be a simple read and share event, in which the students have been placed into teams (no more than 3 kids)  and they will read a sub-section of general information about the Native American tribes in Wisconsin.  This mini-project will take one lesson (45 min) for reading and writing (they are learning to not copy others’ words) and one lesson for presentation.  By ripping half the chapter apart, students will have to take more control of their learning as they engage in active listening during presentations, and practicing their own public speaking skills.

The second project is the actual research of various historical figures prominent in the exploration of Wisconsin.  There are 12 different prominent explorers that the students should learn about.  I will therefore go through the time line of the exploration years to provide them with an overview of the time, and then set them off to research.  I have checked out netbooks for them to do their research on, however, students can choose to use them or not.  Other student choices include:
  • Who their learning partner should be?
  • Who they would like to research (I ask them to pick 3 and then pick sticks and assign)?
  • How are they going to research?
I find the “how” is just as important as the “who”, because in 4th grade, we are just learning how to do actual research.  Students have not had a lot of practice and are so used to the teacher printing out various sources, or creating a livebinder.  By having a classroom discussion on various forms of research, we are once again handing over the responsibility (and thinking) to the students, so you are facilitating rather than leading.

Students will be asked to present all of their information via the fantastic Facebook Template that has been circulating on Twitter.  However, I will be asking them to draw it out by hand rather than on the computer.  The reason is two-fold; we have some very artistic students that need an outlet, and we have limited access to computers.  So in the end, we will have some fantastic Facebook templates adorning our classroom walls.  Timeline will be discussed and determined by the students as well but I foresee about one week’s worth of time is needed.

As for grading, students will be evaluating themselves, and we will discuss what they loved, had difficulty with, and how they would improve upon it.  No formal grade will be assigned, as is my style, but students will be asked to read and comment on each other’s work as well, as part of the learning process.

In progress:  
I have been meeting with my students and some need a little bit more scaffolding, so I created this direction sheet for them to use.  That way they can check off when they find the needed information or if they need to make something up they can.

being a teacher, Social studies, students

When Students Decide

Spicy popcorn, wigwams, tipis, corn bread, blueberry muffins, bow and arrow, Aztelan homes, sugared apricots, and many other things were all the results of the students taking control of the Native American research and project.  To say I am impressed doesn’t even cover the level of genuine excitement I have about what the students mastered today.

Coupled with these wonderful projects were the presentations that began today.  Students all have to present their research in some shape to their classmates, plus be able to answer questions and engage an audience.  We discussed what the difference is between listening and active listening and stopped when the students felt the audience was becoming unengaged.

From the moment we started this project, I knew this was a different way of learning and one that would either be wondrous or disastrous.  I should have trusted the students completely because they have once again blown me away with their commitment to their projects and their hard work.  This is definitely a form of project we will try again.  And don’t worry; pictures are coming soon!