Earth Day Environmental Centers

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Our school is a green school, so we do a lot as a whole school to learn about caring for our Earth throughout the year. Our third grade has some specific science standards that explore pollution and effects of humans on the environment. They are beginning a unit on this during science, and the opportunity aligned to allow us to explore the topic during the week of Earth Day. Each class came to the library for a 45-minute exploration of 5 centers. Students began on the carpet for a quick intro to the 5 centers. Students did not have to make it to all of the centers. Instead, I told them to prioritize which ones interested them the most and do their best to make it to those and save the others in case centers were full or they had extra time.

The classroom teacher, gifted teacher, and I all walked around and talked with individual students as they worked to see what they were discovering and assisting them if they had a question. Here’s a look at the 5 centers they explored:

 

Center 1: Books

I pulled multiple books from our collection about the environment, energy, recycling, water conservation, and more. Students were encouraged to find a book that caught their eye and spend a few minutes reading parts of that book or parts of several books.

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Center 2: Flipgrid

I created a list of authentic environmental problems that exist in our school. These included things like printing to copiers and never picking up the copies, throwing away recyclables, and trash in our parking lot after a UGA football game. Students were encouraged to pick an issue from my list or come up with their own observation. Using Flipgrid, they recorded a brief video identifying the problem and naming possible solutions.

 

Center 3: Observation and Poetry

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This center included multiple books by Joyce Sidman. She is a master of making observations in the natural world, researching those observations, and then turning them into poetry. Many of her books feature side-by-side poetry and the information that inspired the poem. Students were encouraged pick a book, find a poem, and see how the factual information that Sidman researched made its way into her poetry.

Blackout poetry in action #poetrymonth #blackoutpoetry #writing #3rdgrade #librariesofinstagram

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Center 4: Environmental Blackout Poetry

This center was modeled after the blackout poetry of Austin Kleon. It is  kind of found poetry where you find words in magazines, newspaper, websites, or books to arrange into a poem and you blackout the rest of the words on the page. I copied multiple selections from books about the environment and students chose one of those pages to create a blackout poem. It’s always interesting to see how students boil the words down to the ones that stand out the most in the article or page. This year, I made sure that we did our blackout poetry on top of a table cover so that they black crayon and marker didn’t make its way onto our tables.

Earth day blackout poetry #studentwork #studentvoice #earthday #librariesofinstagram #centers #poetrymonth

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Center 5: Environmental Online Resources

Using Symbaloo, I pulled together ebooks, websites, interactive sites, and videos about the environment. Students spent time on a few of the sites before moving on to other centers.

Now the students will use the topics and ideas that they discovered in this exploration as they continue to study these topics back in the classroom.

 

Using Makerspace to Extend Curriculum: A Geology Project

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Third grade studies rocks and minerals as a part of their science standards. In Ms. Hicks class, they have been extending their research of rocks and minerals to create their own Blendspace lessons to teach others facts about rocks and minerals. They are even including pre-tests and post-tests in their lessons. As a part of this Blendspace project, students started thinking about how they might design their own climbing wall for our school based on their research.

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Ms. Hicks asked me what tool we might use to design and prototype of a climbing wall, and I immediately thought of Tinkercad. We have used Tinkercad for other projects and have found it to be one of the better tools for 3d design at the elementary level. Students came to the library to learn a bit about how Tinkercad works.

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I gave them a very quick tutorial which basically showed them things like adding a work plane, dragging over geometric shapes, resizing shapes, and building up.

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I created two generic accounts that students share rather than creating an account for every student. Half of them logged in with one account and half with the other. Their goal was to tinker during the first lesson to see what they could figure out, but their tinkering was a bit more focused than usual. Ms. Hicks really wanted them to already start envisioning their climbing wall as they were tinkering. Some of them latched onto the tool and really got a jumpstart on designing, while others tried something and started over several times.

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One student thought we was being a bit silly by trying to design a chicken instead of a climbing wall, but we turned this into a learning opportunity. I thought about the climbing wall that is at our own Omni Club here in Athens. It is shaped like a giant bulldog, so I pulled it up on the screen to show that he could in fact design his rock all to look like a chicken if he really thought about how people would climb a giant chicken. Instead of shutting him down, his wheels were turning about what he might try, and he is in fact now designing a penguin rock wall.

Other students started thinking about which rocks and minerals would be the best choices for the climbing wall based on their strength and also their color. They referenced their research and the Mohs hardness scale to choose rocks and minerals that would hold up a climber. As they did this, they changed the colors and shapes of the climbing pieces on their walls to represent their different choices. Not all students were ready for this level of thinking, but when we found students who were thinking in this way, we encouraged them to share what they were doing in the hopes of giving other students ideas.

 

One student even let me record a snippet of his thinking about his own rock wall choices.

The students have worked on these designs for 3 work sessions. As they finish, they are taking screen shots of their designs and adding them to Blendspace with an explanation of their design. In the future, we plan to export their designs as .stl files so that we can actually 3d print their prototypes when they are ready to present.

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I loved this real world application of rocks and minerals because it showed students that there are actually careers where you might consider some of the facts that they are learning in science. There was so much higher order thinking built into this project, especially this design piece. I had some great conversation with students as they referenced their research to find the specific rocks and minerals they wanted to use. One conversation involved a student specifically wanting a rock that was yellow. He kept Googling different rocks he knew to see if they came in yellow. When he finally found one of the feldspar family that was yellow, he noticed that the website description referenced Bob’s Rock Shop. We had a great conversation about the importance of digging into the website to really see where the information was coming from, and he found that the information actually did come from a reliable source within that site.

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I hope that we can find ways to share the work that this class is doing in the hopes of inspiring students at all levels to apply what they are doing to really world experiences. It would be fascinating to actually see this climbing wall come to life and have o

Winter Around the World and in Athens, GA: Original Songs and Personal Narratives

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For the past few weeks, 2 classes have been involved in exploring winter right here in Athens, Georgia.  Even though we might associate cold and snow with winter, it isn’t always like that where we live.  Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class and Ms. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class both participated.  You can read about the beginnings of their projects here.  Our work is all coming together with classrooms from around the world on a collaborative Google slide presentation.

Ms. Kelly’s class has been busy in their classroom dividing into groups and building a song about winter.  As a class, they worked on the base beat using beatlab.  Then different groups worked on parts of the song.  Singers created the words and sang them. Clappers used their hands to add rhythm.  Ukuleles strummed chords for another layer.  Instruments such as coffee can drums added even another layer of rhythm.

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Ms. Kelly wrote the words up onto a big chart paper with plenty of visuals for students to follow.  She saved their class beat in beatlab and pulled it up on the library projector.  I used Screencastomatic to record the beat along with our webcam recording the student performers.  Ms. Kelly used dry erase markers to make notes on the beatlab beat for specific groups of students.  She also used a cowbell and her voice to help students know when to come in.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to record multiple times, but we just loved our first take!

Even though we were in love with that version, we decided to try one more time with just an iPad so that we could get some closeup shots of students performing.  We love this version too, but we are including the 1st one in our global winter project with classrooms around the world.

We had some fun shout outs while we were working on our song, including some retweets from Kishi Bashi who was one of our inspirations for our song.

Ms. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade class split into groups of 4.  Two students were author and two were illustrators.  After starting their work in the library, they continued to write and draw in class to tell about personal experience with winter in Athens.  They featured things like food, clothing, school, and events in winter.

Each group came to the library with their finished work.  We spread their pages out on tables and took digital pictures of each page.  We then took these and added them to the collaborative Google presentation.

In Youtube, we pulled up the feature where you can record straight into Youtube with your webcam.  We placed each page in front of the webcam and students read their winter personal narratives and facts.  These videos were also embedded on the Google slides.

We look forward to seeing how the rest of the slides turn out as we learn about winter around the world!

 

 

 

First Grade Wizard of Oz Meteorologists

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Our amazing 1st grade team and students have been working on their Wizard of Oz unit.  I love this unit because they weave in so many content standards with Wizard of Oz as their guiding text. A part of this unit is the weather standards from science.  Students have to know various kinds of weather as well as how to dress in that weather.  Since this is a part of what meteorologists do, we decided to try something new this year by looking closely at the role of meteorologists.  The goal was for students to write a weather report for the Wizard of Oz regarding the cyclone and to record the forecast in front of our green screen.

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Students came to the library and we looked at a few videos of meteorologists reporting on severe weather. As we watched, students noticed things about the posture and speech of the meteorologist.  They also pointed out many of the weather words he/she used.

As weather words were noticed, we added them to a shared Google doc.

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This doc was shared with all classroom teachers to continue to add to and use in class.  We also looked at another student-made video and noticed how the student introduced himself in his weather forecast and pretended to be outside in the story.

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In the library, we also spent some time beginning the writing process of creating a weather report.  Students continued working on this in class during writer’s workshop.  The list of weather words continued to be used and added to. They also did a bit of rehearsing.

Finally, students returned to he library and one by one recorded themselves in front of the green screen with a tornado or other weather behind them.  As students were recording, the rest of the class practiced, looked at weather books, and searched for the current weather in our area using apps on the iPad.

They loved seeing the weather magically appear on our iPad using the DoInk app on the iPad.  We took all of the videos from the iPad and uploaded them to class playlists to share back with the class.

You can enjoy the variety of videos in each of these lists.

One of my favorite parts of this short project was how it tied to a real career and gave students experience with a real-world job related to the standards they were studying in science.  They were each able to be a bit creative in their forecasting, and each student had a chance to use a cool technology to make their voice heard at such an early age.

Recording wizard of oz weather reports #science #tlchat #weather

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Celebrating International Dot Day with Google Drawing and Cells

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We love Dot Day at our school.  We connect with classrooms around the country across the whole week.  Our students love reading stories and creating dots in creative ways.

This year, our 5th graders are studying cells in science at about the same time as Dot Day, so we decided to connect the two.  Each class came to the library and we spent some time talking about “making our mark” and what that really means.  We gave examples of students who are already making their mark this school year.  I tried to emphasize that a big part of this is trying new things and just seeing where it goes.  We never know when we try something new if it is going to lead us to something awesome.

After this quick mini-lesson, students had a chance to tinker with Google Drawing.  I showed them where it was within Google Drive, but really gave no instruction on how to use it.  They had about 15-20 minutes just to click on everything they could find and see what it did.  Some students found a groove and actually created something they were excited about while others gave themselves permission not to worry about what the page looked like and just get messy clicking buttons.

During the tinkering time, there was a group of students who suddenly started using Google Drawing to make their own emoji.  When I started asking them about their work, they were a bit shy at first because they thought they were in trouble.  However, I told them that new emoji are being created all the time, and they never know when their ideas and creations might lead to the next emoji on our phones.  They were eager to carry on with their work.  I saw other students designing their own jewelry and another creating a building design.

Mrs. Freeman, the reading teacher, and I transitioned students from tinkering into using Google Drawing to make a cell for Dot Day.  We pulled up some examples of animal and plant cells and then students referenced those as they drew and labeled their cells.

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One of the things I loved was walking around and seeing how unique each student made his/her cell.  One student talked about how the organelles looked like bacon so he actually imported a picture of bacon into his cell drawing.  Awesome!

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As we neared the end of our time, we took a moment to highlight various student work.  It was selected for many reasons, not just because it had all of the parts of a cell labeled.

We closed by once again revisiting the idea that by trying a new tool, we are opening up possibilities for future projects and creations that might lead us to making our mark on the world in some fantastic way.

Happy Dot Week!

 

What Fairy Gardens Taught Me About Makerspaces, Teaching, and Learning

Entertaining a 5 year old and 3 year old during the summer is a big job.  I love being a parent, and it has made me grow so much as an educator.  Summertime brings many days of opportunities for adventures.  We get out of the house every single day and go somewhere whether it’s the botanical gardens, the local UGA campus, the local zoo,a movie, or the pool.  In between all of the fighting that happens between a brother and sister, there is a lot of curiosity about the world, and I love watching this unfold during the summer.

Recently, Athens held its big summer music festival, Athfest.  A part of this festival is an artist market, and my kids loved seeing what was in each tent.  Their attention was most drawn to a booth of fairy gardens.  These artists had created living pieces of art inside picture frames and jars.  They had made every single item in the gardens.  Building on my kids’ curiosity of this art, I decided we would make fairy gardens one day.  The only instructions we had were the memories of what we had seen at Athfest.  I intentionally did not look up examples on the computer because this was not a copying activity.  I wanted this to be full of investigation, dreaming, tinkering, and creating.  In fact, I really love not planning out every single detail of what we do because I can just see where the curiosity takes us.

We started by looking around our house for fairy homes.  We looked at several pickle and jelly jars as well as empty flower pots.  Alora and Anderson each chose their favorite.

Then, we had an outing to the local hobby and craft store to find trinkets for the fairies.  I didn’t have a specific budget in mind, but I like a good bargain, so I didn’t plan to spend very much.  We got a basket and each child got to put things into the basket as possibilities.  There’s not really a “fairy garden” section in the store so you have to really wander around with a fairy eye and think about what a fairy might like in his or her house.  We spent a good amount of time in the dollhouse section of the store.  Finally we made our way to the clearance section which was a hodge podge of all kinds of stuff.  We really had to dig here.  After the basket had a good amount of stuff, I got out my phone calculator and started looking through the basket.  We sorted piles of “definitely want”, “kind of want”, and “don’t want”.  As Alora and Anderson were making those decisions, we talked about price and also how many items were in each pack.  They knew they would be sharing so they were more interested in packs that had multiple items in them that could be split up.  After agreeing on an amount, we visited the register, chatted with the cashier about fairy gardens, and paid our bill.

Back home, we took to the outdoors with a basket.  We did a nature walk and collected free items for our gardens.  On our walk, we talked about what to touch and what not to touch.  We collected sticks, rocks, pine cones, moss, and leaves.  Finally, we prepped our fairy gardens.  Again, we didn’t specifically look up what we should put, but we talked a bit about the layers in the Earth and decided to make some layers in our gardens.  We filled the bottom with rocks.  We didn’t have any sand, but we noticed that there were some rocks along the sides of the house that had been broken down a lot by the water gushing out of the gutters.  We talked about the rock cycle and erosion while we shoveled up some of this sand and bits of rocks to make another layer.  Finally, we put a layer of dirt.

Back inside, we added some water to pack everything together a bit and then topped our containers off with some moss.  We spread out all of the items from our nature walk as well as all of our trinkets from the store.  They both started placing items into the gardens and making decisions about what the fairies would like the most.

When their construction was complete, we topped off each garden with a metal candle shade from our junk closet and placed all of the remaining items in a ziploc bag so that they could trade out things in the gardens when they wanted to.  The gardens went to each child’s room.  At bedtime, I went in Alora’s room and she was busy once again.  On her own, she had gotten a roll of tape and a ziploc bag.  The ziploc was on top of the metal shade and was securely taped on.  When I asked about it, she told me that if a fairy went inside she didn’t want it to get out.  Nevermind the gaping hole on the front of her flowerpot.  I loved how she was already extending what we had started.

It really wasn’t until that moment that I started reflecting on the whole experience: where we had been, where we could go, and what implications it had for my own teaching.

A Few Topics We Explored:

  • perspective through the eyes of a fairy
  • financial literacy through budgeting and decision making
  • speaking and listening
  • layers of the Earth
  • habitats
  • erosion and rock cycle
  • plant identification
  • problem solving
  • reusing
  • safety
  • art
  • creativity

A Few Potential Extensions:

  • reading fairy stories to learn more about fairy behaviors and needs
  • building upon Alora’s idea of a fairy trap.  We could use littlebits to make an alarm to alert us when a fairy is inside.
  • adding electronics and circuitry to our garden.  To give the appearance of a fairy or even to add some light for an existing fairy, we could use littlebits or leds with coin cell batteries.  This could lead to a whole exploration of circuits and electricity.
  • spending more time learning about terrariums and the types of plants that could live inside a jar.
  • storytelling based on our fairies and fairy gardens.

Some Takeaways

  • Some of the best learning experiences can happen when you don’t have every detail planned out. We had a goal, which was to build a fairy garden, but we didn’t lock ourselves into a series of steps.  While I love to plan, I think we often miss out on some incredible learning opportunities with students when we aren’t observing, pausing, listening, and reflecting.
  • Our library makerspaces are a place where these types of experiences can launch, but the space alone does not create the learning.  I add a few layers to our makerspace each year.  More stuff brings more possibilities.  However, I learned last year that you can’t just turn kids loose in the makerspace and expect that they are going to come out with an amazing project.  There’s a big inquiry piece that is amplified through conversations with an educator like the librarian.  Kids can come into the makerspace to dream, tinker, and create, but it is up to us to be observing, listening, reflecting, and inquiring to take the student learning to the next level.
  • When students are engaged through something that is of their own interests, multiple required standards can be woven in.  They may not happen on the timeline that comes from the district or state, but they can be woven in.  My struggle, just like many educators, is how to replicate this type of individual experience with a class of 25-30 students.  It can be done.  I believe it can, but it is very tricky.
  • I thought back to my experiences with Kelly Hocking, a kindergarten teacher at our school.  She can take just about any topic that most of the class is interested in and create a magical year long project that weaves in multiple standards, experiences, and projects.  The fairy garden could easily be that kind of project, but I’m not telling everyone to go out and make fairy gardens.  I think we need to listen to our students’ voices, find their interests, and somehow find connecting threads that allow us to create projects and experiences that honor those while still upholding the standards we are required to teach.

I know there is more here, but my brain is in summer mode and I’m still trying to entertain a 3 and 5 year old as I write.  I’m going to continue thinking on this.  If you have your own thoughts, ideas, extensions, takeaways, etc, please leave them in the comments.

A Year-Long Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Space Project

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I have to take a moment to brag on another teacher and group of students in our school.  Kelly Hocking is an amazing Kindergarten teacher, and she has a talented group of Kindergarten students who are some of the biggest researchers and creators in our school.  I love how each year she finds something that her class takes an interest in and somehow weaves into every subject area and standard that they study in Kindergarten.  One year it was art.  Another year it was a study of maps and stretching the imagination.  This year it was space.

Kelly never knows at what point in the year something will pop up as an interest in her class, but this year it happened when they were doing a GoNoodle.  It happened to feature space, and it took the class into a series of questions and wonderings about space.

They started reading lots of books about space as well as studying the science standards about the day and night sky.

The more they read, the more they started to notice about space popping up in so many areas of their curriculum and life.

They launched into research mode and asked lots of questions.  In the library and classroom they used print and digital resources to learn about the planets and collect facts about each one.

In February, the class celebrated Fat Tuesday by dressing as planets and parading around the school.  Each costume was space-inspired and they handed out coins and beads to lots of classes.

Research continued in the classroom and the media center.  Students used all of their facts to write a series of notes.  In groups, the students put those notes in an order that made sense and prepared to make their own ebooks about space using the Storykit app.

At this point, we were approaching poetry month, so I suggested that the students think about space poetry.  I connected the class with several poetry books about space, and they started crafting some poems in class.  Ms. Kelly also has ukuleles in her classrooms, so the poems eventually were turned into songs with music composed by the students.

At our annual Poem In Your Pocket day, the groups of students performed their poetry songs for a live audience.  We even had poet, Laura Purdie Salas, listen in to the poetry since students were inspired by her space poems and songs.

At this point in the year, lots of attention turned to Mars and space exploration.  Students really didn’t want to travel to Mars themselves, but they did want to think about helping other people get there some day.  We created a Padlet to collect all of our research in the library and the classroom.

Eventually, the students wanted to start making some inventions to help Mars explorers, so we did a lot of tinkering in our Makerspace.  In class, students constructed elaborate prototypes of their inventions and did informational writing to accompany their creations.

If we had more time in our year, I’m sure Ms. Kelly and her students would have come up with even more miraculous things, but it truly was an amazing year of exploration and I’m glad that our library was a part of it.

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You can read more about the library parts of this project in these posts:

Why Do We Explore Space: A Virtual Field Trip Opportunity

Can a Foodini 3D Printer Go to Space?

Kindergarten Mission to Mars: A Makerspace Exploration

Kindergarten Researchers in Action

Also, you can view Ms. Kelly’s full deck of slides which includes lyrics to a cumulative song that explores all of the planets and the facts the students learned.  They performed this song at our end of the year assembly.

View the full slidedeck here.