Monday, January 30, 2012

Age of Exploration Unit Ideas

Age of Exploration:
Here are a few activities we have been doing in our Explorer unit recently ...

I start off this unit with a GREAT lesson from the SS series History Alive. They have you put on underwater music and have the kids pretend to be archaeologists scuba diving and discovering an old "Explorer" wreck. They retrieve these artifacts, log them, and discover what they tell us about the Explorers. We then categorize them like you see above. They kids really get into this lesson!
 At the beginning of the unit I also have the students partner up and share their "explorer schema" with each other. Then we share as a class and discuss together what we think we already know.
My favorite spot in my classroom is my history corner. I get antsy throughout the school year and I love that this little area is constantly changing. Plus, I love how interactive it is - I try and always have "artifacts" that the kids can touch, books that relate to the topic, maps/pictures, clothing/costumes, and as we go, I add their artwork to make it authentic :)
 We are not technically supposed to hang any thing from our ceilings due to fire codes ... but no one has talked to me yet and this makes our room feel so much more "explorer ship-like" ;)
 Compasses the kids made
This is another FUN activity. We learn about how the explorers brought back lots of new tastes from the "New World" Before I have them identify what these "tastes" are we do a "New World Smelling" activity. I have the different food items pre-cut and labeled in numbered dixie cups (take a little prep time the night before) Then the kids get a sheet to record their "smells" and their guesses. I actually made 2 sets so that the kids could all be doing it at the same time - I only had 12 items
 "New World" Tastes:
  1. Potato 
  2. tomoto 
  3. bell peppers
  4. tobacco - obviously not in the cups! *lol*
  5. vanilla 
  6. chocolate 
  7. pineapple 
  8. blueberries
  9. kidney beans 
  10. sunflower seeds 
  11. pumpkin (not in the cups - out of season)
  12. corn
  13. peanut butter
  14. chili peppers
 In pairs, I have the students read a biography about an explorer. Using this information they have to fill out an "explorer ship" together answering what the their explorers greatest achievement was, his motives for exploration, two facts they found interesting, and their discovery.
I added these to our map - aren't they cute?
 We filled in a map that had famous expedition routes on it
We used our knowledge of explorer styles ships and drew them to go with our explorer newspaper article we will be writing to go with our informational writing this week. 

For more of my posts on Exploration, visit HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE

For more fun Explorer lessons by other people, visit the link below! 

My Life: Display Case and a little about ME

     Our art teacher is in charge of the display case in the hallway - usually it contains children's art (it will soon house the kiddos "empty bowls") but recently, all their art work has been hang-able (word??) so she had teacher's from each grade level fill it with things that told a little about themselves. This month it was me and my partner teacher's turn. She has the bottom two shelves, I have the top.

I thought I would use this as a catapult to share a little about myself on here ...make my blog a bit more personal *grin*
  • Abraham Lincoln Bust = I am a complete history dork, particularly American history (Civil War) and European Renaissance and Reformation (Henry VIII Tudor dynasty). The dream is to get my maters in it some day *crossing fingeres* 
  • Leotard and handstand picture = I am/ want to still be/ was a gymnast. Throughout high school and college I traveled with a team - see my post Cheerleading/Gymnastics to see what we did. I still try and get a handstand or hand to hand in with the hubby any place I can :)
  • Owl bag = I love all things owls! Not really the real ones though ... *go figure!* 
  • Painting with flowers = I love to paint with arylics - I never have time any more it seems and that makes me sad ...
  • Banana Grams = ADORE this game! That and ANY kind of trivia game!
  • Big cream flower = I absolutely love BIG flowers in my hair - they make any outfit snazzy! 
  • Picture of the hubby and I in Colorado with a BURTON DVD = Snowboarding is our winter sport! We love the slopes! 
  • Packers Helmet = Daddy's little girl - I bleed green and gold!
  • Michigan Ball = GO BLUE! because this is home :) 
  • Chicago White Sox = because Grandma made me a fan :) 
  • Detroit Pistons = because of my husband ... never really cared for b-ball before 
  • Detroit Red Wings = ^^^^^^^^^^
  • Yellow Heel = Heels are my FAV - but sadly I cannot make it in them through a whole school day so they remain hidden in my closet the majority of the time :(
  • Scarlet Pimpernel = FAVORITE MOVIE, seriously, if you have never seen this movie - DO IT! (make sure you watch the one with Jane Seymour in it!)
  • Tennis Racket = I enjoy playing all sports (except basketball) my racket was the easiest to display ...
  • In the pink frame = Dudley - my kitty, our surprise gift from God this winter ... he is slowly melting my heart :)
  • Books = "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" - Adore Jane Austin, and any historical fiction
  • White bird = I love birds! My house is filled with them ... decorative ones that is :)
  • Family photo = my family is SO important to me! LOVE THEM! 
  • Embroidered Hawaii picture = Kauai is my most favorite place in the whole world! 
  • In the green frame = my hunky hubby and I at our friends wedding

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pondering the Practicality of Social Studies ...

        In my classroom, it is my desire to make history truly become something that does not simply come alive (which I do wish!) but become something practical in my students lives. How can social studies and history be practical?? First, history is not the only component in Social Studies ... just like fractions aren't synonymous with Mathematics. Geography, social interactions, stories of heroes, mistakes made in the past, economics, and more are all encompassed in this subject. Good teachers, take all of this into account when they are tackling the teaching of this despised subject. No ... I don't mean they make you memorize all the rivers and landmasses in the United States on top of every general in the Civil War! I mean that they take the economic outcomes, the geographical advantages, the social/cultural/ethnic issues, and help you find out WHY?
Why was it that the Europeans began the "Scientific Revolution" when the Aztecs of Mexico and the Chinese were far more advanced in the areas of navigation and medicine? How do our early, national values help determine what we choose to do currently and in the future? Why do we do many of the things we do? Why do other countries do things that they do? Why are we currently having issues with another nation? How can be we better avoid certain economic, social, and universal downfalls ... look to history.  
People are a product of their culture. Social Studies explains this. Many people today are frustrated with our current government for a myriad of reasons ... check it out - find out why ... then complain, better yet, help change it! Find out why certain people are doing what they are doing or why others have their hands tied. Learn about our economic history,  maybe the headlines in the newspaper will make a bit more sense to you.
Teachers, remember this as you teach our children. It can be one of the most practically applied subjects in our world ... it is the story (past, present, and future) of OURSELVES - we just have to apply it.

  • For ideas on how to apply divergent thinking and practical application for social studies assessment see my post "Higher Order Authentic Assessment"
  • For ideas on incorporating social studies into reading and writing centers see my post "Center Organization" - toward the bottom of the post

Friday, January 27, 2012

Higher Order Authentic Assessment

    At the beginning of the school year, our superintendent showed us this video on "Changing the educational Paradigm" during our staff welcome ...  Check it out. It is powerful.

While I know that these are simply ideas and theories about where this man feels education should be headed and not things that we can change drastically today ... I DO think that many these thoughts and ideals are vitally important for us as teachers to be be thinking about as we plan and teach within our own classrooms.  For example,  we should be ... taking to heart the idea that students learn better in collaboration, our world is more technologically stimulated than it was even when we were kids, our students need an education to be successful more today than ever before ...
     The part that struck me was the section where he talked about divergent thinking and how it is not the same thing as creativity. This idea that we need to be helping our children find LOTS of POSSIBLE answers to questions they will face in the world around them, not just one original idea, not just facts, not simply the answer to a problem.
     This led me to try and apply this to my own assessments. I even took it a step further and discussed divergent thinking with my students ... sharing with them what it was, it's importance, and how it can help them in their lives - and yes, I drew whiteboard pictures ;)

       I took this to heart by revamping of my Native American Authentic Assessment packet. Originally, my social studies assessments came directly from my social studies textbook/workbooks. The focus was on multiple choice, short answer, and fill in the blank - Lower Level Thinking - facts that were to be memorized and regurgitated for no apparent purpose. I firmly believe that THIS is why so many people LOATHE social studies and history. Instead of focusing on the higher level, intellectually stimulating, reason, story telling, reflectional qualities, and APPLICATION of history, people expect students to enjoy learning often disconnected, random, and FACTS about a time they don't understand and about people who are dead and boring.
- I decided to focus on what I believed were the important parts that I want my students to know about Native Americans ("First People" as we call them). The standard is quite BROAD so it had more play room, making it good for my experimental assessment. 

Standard: Locates and describes major regions, cultures, and communities in Native American life. 
  1. I want them to be able to break the stereotypes that tend to warp people's ideas of who these people really were and who they are today.
  2. I want them to be able to identify other Indian regions and cultures - not simply the Great Plains with their tepee's and buffalo.
  3. I want them to recognize the resources that influenced how they had to adapt and how their environments, religions, social structures, and economies created each culture and their unique characteristics and that we are still influenced by our environments and natural resources today.
  4. I want them to THINK about WHY the Hopi wore clothes made out of cotton, not simply memorize that they did. I wanted them to THINK about WHY plains Indians had Tepees and were nomadic in nature while the Northwest Indians built more permanent settlements. Basically to INFER about what the correct answer was, not memorize it and spit it back. THIS is what creates THINKERS - not robots!
I did not have them do this packet all in one sitting. We did a page or two a day and discussed it directly after we completed them. The students put their pencils away and took out markers/pens - if they missed a question they filled it in with the correct answer with their marker or pen (so in my grading I could tell what was authentically theirs). They were not "grading" per say, it was simply practice in case they hadn't understood - reinforcement of the information :)
 I gave them the regions (1) spelling purposes and (2) because I didn't want the focus to be on the memorization process but the application process
I wanted them to be able to "infer" by thinking of the regions and what we had learned about each one to figure out what region wore what. Some students may have memorized which went with which since we had been studying these cultures in depth, but the questions were worded in such a way that should a student have forgotten, by thinking of the different environments, they should have been able to match the clothing to the region.
 The same rationale went into why I wanted them to identify the regional houses.
 The tree was sort of a fun "divergent thinking" activity I threw in. Native Americans found MILLIONS of ways to utilize their natural resources to survive. I asked the students to label all the different things they could do, use, or make with a birch tree. I encouraged them to "think outside of the box!" Here were some "out of the box" answers we came up afterward in our class collaboration. 
Make: (this was the easiest of the three)
Tree house
tire swing 
as camouflage
as an escape route 
Do (with it): 
Burn it
climb it 
chop it down 
Do (more abstract!):  - I had to really prompt some of the kids to finally get this out of them (the truly divergent thinking - but then they did SO WELL!
take a picture of it
draw it
re-plant it
search for it
find it
Using the reading skill "inference" I had the students identify which region they thought this girl/picture was simply by inferring her surroundings, clothing, etc. 
For this page, I wanted them to recognize what natural resources are - they had to list as many things as they could think of the natural resources that could be found in this environment. Based both of the picture, previous discussion, and their own schema.
Obviously, vocabulary is important and it requires memorization techniques. Some things are and that is fine! It just shouldn't be the only focus or assessment for an entire subject.
I feel that the best way to assess social studies is through short essay format - it's importance is not as much about who did what, where or when they did it as much as it is about WHY! By looking at information and sharing your summary of your findings and how it changed your perception - THAT is what social studies is all about! Now I cannot truly use essay format in it's truest sense in 5th grade - a whole assessment like that would overwhelm them. But I did incorporate some small "essay" questions in my stereotype section. I wanted the to identify common, erroneous Native American stereotypes and use their knowledge to break them. 
After one looks into the past and sees the good or bad ways things have developed, it is important then for us to have our students make a connection between it and the here and now. THIS is where the relevance comes into play. We look into the past so we see why we/or others do what we do and also how to prevent certain negative things from happening in the future.
The final assessment was a writing activity. This really summed up their knowledge about what they had learned and liked about this unit/standard. By asking them which Native American region they would have liked to have lived in, it forced them to give reasons based on their knowledge of the Native American regions and cultures.  
To me, these types of assessments give an authentic take on how the child perceives the topic and the depth to which they understood the information presented.

Note: Please be aware that that as a social studies educator, my purpose is to get students excited about learning other cultures as well as their own. I am not perfect in my education of this, though I do try and do a lot of research before teachings cultures and history. Concerning the information presented in my room, I try it make it as authentic as possible from my findings and research but do not claim to be an expert. If there is something that bothers you or have questions on my instruction concerning your culture or any other topic I may teach in my room, please feel free to email me personally to help me gain more understanding. I love learning about others and am always striving to educate my students better. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

{Wordless Wednesday}

My {Wordless Wednesday} Photo Dump

 Inter mural girls flag football jersey - MATTHEWS!
 Supper ... mmmm
 My little Prince in the morning
 Nerd Day - Awesome RIGHT??
"tankard" I am making for Empty Bowls
Rock that our staff members pass to each other for outstanding recognition - LOVE IT! 
Articles on display in the hallway that students have identified "text features" in
Sadly this photo was taken BEFORE we lost miserably to the Giants ...
 Dress like a pirate day!
Students "book recommendation" ornaments on display in the library before Christmas


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