Exploring Georgia Habitats with Third Grade

Our 3rd grade is currently learning about the plants, animals, and habitats in the 5 regions of Georgia. The teachers wanted students to have an opportunity to gather some background knowledge prior to their lessons in the classroom, so I worked on a series of centers for students to rotate through and experience these standards in a variety of formats.

S3L1. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about the similarities and differences between plants, animals, and habitats found within geographic regions (Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plains, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau) of Georgia.

  • a. Ask questions to differentiate between plants, animals, and habitats found within Georgia’s geographic regions.
  • b. Construct an explanation of how external features and adaptations (camouflage, hibernation, migration, mimicry) of animals allow them to survive in their habitat.
  • c. Use evidence to construct an explanation of why some organisms can thrive in one habitat and not in another.

S3E2. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information on how fossils provide evidence of past organisms.

  • a. Construct an argument from observations of fossils (authentic or reproductions) to communicate how they serve as evidence of past organisms and  the environments in which they lived.
  • b. Develop a model to describe the sequence and conditions required for an organism to become fossilized. (Clarification statement: Types of fossils  (cast, mold, trace, and true) are not addressed in this standard.)

To make instructions easy to access, I put everything on a Google doc with a short link. As each class arrived to the library, I split the class into groups of 3-4 students by having them sit on color dots on the floor. We briefly talked about the main goal of the standards being to compare and contrast the plants, animals, and habitats of the 5 regions of Georgia, and then I sent color dot groups to centers. I kept a timer on my phone for 8-10 minutes per center and students rotated to the next center in number sequence.

Center 1

Georgia Public Broadcasting has an amazing set of virtual tours on a whole range of science and social studies standards. For this center, students explored the physical features of Georgia including the Okefenokee Swamp, fall line, various mountains, Providence Canyon, and the Barrier Islands.  The purpose of this center was for students to explore the physical features through pictures, maps, text, and video and think about what adaptations plants and animals might need in order to live in these areas of Georgia.

Center 2

In addition to regions, students learn about fossils and how those fossils tell us about the past. At this station, I wanted students to see that fossils aren’t just about dinosaurs and that we have fossil discoveries right her in Georgia. Students visited a Georgia fossil site which includes a map of where fossils have been found and what time period they are from.

The site also included lots of text to skim and scan for details about what was learned from the fossils. Students also had access to several books from our library about fossils and how they teach us about the past.

Center 3

This center featured another GPB virtual tour. This one focused on the 5 regions of Georgia. Students could visit as many regions as time allowed and read the text, look at pictures, and watch videos to identify animals and plants that live in each region.  Students could also look at the land and see the possible habitats in each region.

 

Center 4

Since a piece of the standard is about comparing and contrasting, this book featured print books about the regions and habitats of Georgia. Students chose 2 books, which were about 2 different areas of Georgia.

As they read and looked at photographs, they thought about what was the same and different about the 2 regions.

Center 5

This center had the most pieces but the most popular part of this center was looking at various posters that featured groups of animals in Georgia.  There was a poster for bats, snakes, salamanders, dragonflies, lizards, and butterflies as well as a poster of plants.

On the back of the poster, students could see a highlighted map for each plant or animal that showed where it could be found in Georgia. Students identified plants and animals found in specific regions as well as ones that could be found in all regions. If students found a particular animal they were interested, they could use the computer to research more info on that animal. I included links for various animal groups to get them started.

    1. Butterflies/Moths https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org
    2. Dragonflies https://www.insectidentification.org/
    3. Lizards https://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/index.htm
    4. Salamanders https://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/index.htm
    5. Snakes https://georgiawildlife.com/georgiasnakes

I also included some books about animal adaptations such as camouflage, hibernation, and migration.

 

Teacher Role

In each session, the teachers and I rotated around to all the centers to have conversations with individuals or groups of students. We helped students focus on the question of each center and asked follow up questions as needed. I loved seeing what each student was discovering and having me plus a couple of teachers helped us have many conversations. This format had structure, but it also gave students freedom to choose what interested them at each center to spend the most time on. The timing was also fast-paced so there was no time to be bored or be “done”.

When students finished visiting all 5 centers, we came back together on the carpet and students had a chance to share some of the most interesting things that they discovered. Overall, this format served its purpose of gathering background information and it held closely to the wording of the standards. I loved that students were able to explore the standards in a variety of formats and there was variety from one center to the next. This is something I would definitely repeat, but I do wonder about what might be added to help students remember some of the interesting nuggets of information they learned along the way. I wouldn’t want to add too much writing because that slows down the gathering of background knowledge, but it would be nice to have some means for remembering a few facts.

If you have ideas or you try this and add something new, please leave a comment.

Preparing for Mystery Skype with Centers

Our 3rd grade classrooms love to mystery Skype.  Have you tried it? In a mystery Skype, 2 classrooms connect with one another but don’t say where they are from.  The two organizers of course know, but the students don’t.  By asking a series of yes or no questions, students try to narrow down to a country, state, city, and even school if there is time.  Mystery Skypes work best when students are prepared in advance and every student has a job to do.  There are many example of jobs to assign in a mystery Skype such as greeter, researcher, questioner, scribe, and photographer.

Ms. Haley, a 3rd grade teacher, met with me to talk about some skills she hoped the students could work on in advance of a mystery Skype.  I started planning a series of 5 centers for students to rotate through.  Ms. Maher, our tech integration specialist, worked on scheduling mystery Skypes via Twitter and Skype in the Classroom so that all 3rd grade classes had a connection.

Two classes at a time came to the library to engage in the mystery Skype centers.  This meant that me, the two classroom teachers, my library intern, and a parent or collaborating teacher could run one center each.  This also meant hat about 8 students would be at each center for 10-ish minutes.  It was very fast-paced, but it introduced to students to many aspects of a mystery Skype and they continued the work in their classrooms throughout the week leading up to the connection.

 

I made a Google doc with all 5 centers and teachers shared the doc with their students through Google Classroom.  Each student had a copy to edit.  Here’s a look at what happened at each center:

Center 1 Question Writing

I reference Pernille Ripp’s great post on good mystery Skype questions.  Students read her examples and then worked on writing their own possible questions from narrow to more specific.  My intern worked with students to think carefully about the kinds of questions they were writing.

 

Center 2 Google Tour Builder

Ms. Haley wanted students to have a sense of where they were in relation with the rest of the world, so I had students start a Google Tour Builder at either their home address or our school address. Then, students built a tour of places they have lived, visited, or want to visit in the world.  This allowed them to be able to reference their current place in the world with other locations

Center 3 Georgia

A big part of a mystery Skype is sharing facts about your city and state with the connecting class.  Students of course love to learn that there are McDonald’s in multiple places in the world, but it’s also fun to share unique facts that make your state what it is.  A pulled a large stack of books about many aspects of our state from Weird Georgia to books about each region.  Students gathered facts that they could share with our connecting class at the end of the Skype.

Center 4 The United States

Ms Haley wanted us to review cardinal and intermediate directions.  I have a small set of National Geographic Kids Beginner’s United States Atlases.  The atlas divides the country up into regions such as northeast, southwest, etc. so I asked students to look at each region and count the number of states in each region, name some of the states, and pick out some facts about those states.  My hope was this would give them some familiarity with how the US is organized and lead to questions about specific regions or help them answer questions from our connecting class about the regions.

Center 5 Landmarks

Our 3rd graders study several important rivers and lakes as part of their social studies, so this center included books about all of those rivers and lakes as well as other landmarks around the country.  Students used these books to identify landmarks and then write questions that could be asked using those landmarks.  Example:  Is your school west of the Mississippi River?

This was my first try at doing this kind of preparation for a mystery Skype.  Each center was based on past experiences and skills that I saw a need for as well as the skills brought up by the 3rd grade teachers.  We will see how this translates into our connections this week.

Looking back, I wish we had more time at each center in the library, but it was also nice to quickly go through the centers to get an understanding of each one and then independently work on them back int he classroom over several days.

What have you done to prepare for a mystery Skype? Leave a comment!

 

Weaving Together Social Studies and Makerspace

inventors-24Our 5th grade is currently studying the impact on American life that several famous inventors had. When I was brainstorming with Shelley Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, we began to wonder about connections these standards had to makerspace.  It started as an idea seed and grew into a set of experiences for all 5th graders to engage in.

I wanted students to put themselves into the shoes of an inventor so that they could begin to understand the perseverance and curiosity that inventors have. We focused on 3 of the inventors: Thomas Edison (electricity), Alexander Graham Bell (communication), and the Wright Brothers (flight).

I prepared 3 centers on electricity, communication, and flight.  Each center included a biography about the inventors, instructions for an activity, and a clipboard to leave wisdom for the next group to learn from.

For flight, I selected some paper airplanes that could be made from a full sheet of paper.  I also included books about other paper airplanes.

For communication, I created 2 choices.  One was to use littlebits to create a tool for communicating using Morse code. I included a buzzer and LED bit as well as button, pulse sensor, and slide dimmer bits.  The other experience was to create a tin can phone.  I provided coffee cans and cups and various kinds of string.

For electricity, I copied instructions for making a simple paper circuit using a coin battery, led light, and copper tape.  I put materials in Ziploc bags so each group would have what they needed to create a circuit.  I added extra led lights for tinkering beyond an simple circuit.

It took a long time to prepare all of the materials for 3 back-to-back 5th grade classes.  I had to have everything ready for an immediate turn round between classes.

Before coming to the library to engage in some makerspace activities related to these themes, students read about each inventor in textbooks and on PebbleGo.  They gave Ms. Olin their top 2 interests out of the 3 themes so that she could put them in groups.

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In the library, we started by looking at the littlebits invention cycle.  There’s not just one place to start in the cycle and it doesn’t necessarily follow a linear sequence.  We talked about how students could start with “create” by following the directions that I had given. Then they could play with their creation and begin to remix ideas to create an improved version or an alternative invention.  By the end, I hoped that they would have something to share with the rest of their class or group.  It really seemed like it could be linear in talking about it, but I quickly saw that it is very fluid.

After our quick intro, students sorted into their chosen task and got to work. Luckily, Ms. Olin and other collaborative teachers joined the class during this session. At times, we had me and 3 teachers supporting students around the library.  It was 3 very different activities, so having the extra support was beneficial.

What I quickly saw was how much students wanted to just jump in and put things together without reading directions.  At paper airplanes, students started folding paper in all sorts of folds and testing them out.

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At paper circuits, students were sticking down tape and connecting the led to the battery without reading  the instructions or even formulating a plan.

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At tin can phones, students immediately started connecting cans.

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But…as I stepped back and thought about it, isn’t that really what inventors do?  They don’t necessarily have a set of instructions to follow. They just try things out to see what happens.

After some initial tinkering, several students did in fact try to read the instructions and many said that they wished they had read them at the beginning. It was an important lesson that we talked about and learned from. It’s hard to read all the instructions before putting something together when all you want is to see the finished product.  I do that myself as an adult.

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One thing that was really interesting was when students finished their first prototype and they started remixing. One example at the tin can phone center was when 2 groups decided to combine their two phones and see if they could make a four-way call.

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At the paper airplane center, students started combining their planes together to see if a combination would create a better flying plane.  They were truly embracing the idea of remixing.

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When we came back together at the end, I asked students to think about what it was like to be an inventor.  We had some great conversation about perseverance, staying calm through frustration, trying again, problem solving, and taking plenty of time to invent. We circled back to our inventors and considered how much time, frustration, and perseverance they each put into their inventions.  I think the experience gave the students a greater appreciation for the inventors they were learning about rather than just passively reading about them.

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We even had a moment to talk about continuing inventions in our makerspace or at home and entering them into our school maker faire coming soon.  I loved how a simple idea from a social studies standard was able to weave together growth mindset, literature, social studies, and makerspace all into one experience.

 

Connecting with Capstone and the PebbleGo Team through Skype

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Our 2nd graders have been thrilled by all of the people voting for their Barrow Peace Prize project.  Voting will continue until February 17th, so there’s still time to take a look at their project and vote.

Today, we were fortunate to have a Skype session with the PebbleGo team at Capstone. PebbleGo is a set of databases with informational text focused on social studies, biographies, science, animals, and dinosaurs. The text is geared to students in lower elementary grades, but it is useful for students at all grades as a starting place for research. Our teachers love the accessibility of the text, how the text is broken into consistent  headings, and that it reads the text to students in a human voice. Our 2nd graders used PebbleGo as the first resource in their Barrow Peace Prize research on Jesse Owen, Bessie Coleman, Ruby Bridges, Charles Drew, Langston Hughes, and Wilma Rudolph.

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During our Skype, we connected with:

  • Tom Zemlin, Director of Software Development
  • Rachel Wallwork & Stephanie Miller, Senior Product Planning Managers
  • Amy Cox, Director of Library Marketing

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Before our session, we sent some questions to PebbleGo and they sent some questions to us.

For PebbleGo:

  • How are PebbleGo articles written?
  • What do you know about the number of people who use PebbleGo?
  • How do you decide what topics to include in PebbleGo?

For us, the Capstone team asked in advance:

  • What do you like about PebbleGo?
  • What do you wish were different?
  • What seems to be missing or what did you have trouble finding the answer to?

We opened our Skype by giving an update on the statistics from our Barrow Peace Prize Projects. At the time of our Skype, our work had been viewed in 121 different locations around the world, according to our Smore page.

The Capstone team introduced themselves and then launched into telling students the process that the team goes through to decide on and create articles. We learned that PebbleGo has been used by over 260,000,000 students around the world.

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Our students took turns lining up at the computer to offer answers to the questions from Capstone, and those comments and questions sparked additional conversation.

Our students expressed their love for how PebbleGo reads to them, has videos, is broken up into sections, and has info on lots of people.

Some of the wishes they had were to have a comprehension check at the end of an article and to include information on character traits for the people in biographies. The character trait comment launched an additional conversation with the Capstone team. We told them how our social studies curriculum includes a study of character traits woven into the people in history. This was hard for our research because we felt like character traits were a bit of an opinion based on facts. The Capstone team had great wonderings for us. They wanted to know if we thought character traits should be separate articles in PebbleGo or if they should be embedded in the biography articles. Our students overwhelmingly responded that they wanted them embedded.

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This then took us to the question about what Capstone does with all of the wishes that it gets from its users. We learned about how they keep lists of wishes and start to notice patterns of requests. When something is requested enough, it might be put into PebbleGo or it might even come up for a vote from PebbleGo users. Within this conversation, we learned that it takes several months for an article to go from an idea to the final piece we see in PebbleGo and the work happens in multiple locations including New York and India.

I loved how the Capstone team listened to our students and how flexible the conversation was with over 100 students. We were well prepared with our student comments and questions, but there was plenty of space to find tangents that revealed more information for our students.

One of the things that I heard from Capstone is that they go through the same kind of research that we are asking our students to go through. They gather their information from multiple sources, create many drafts, and review their work before it is sent out to an audience. It was important for our students to hear this from a major company and see the connections to what we are doing in school.

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Thank you so much to Amy Cox and the Capstone team for making this Skype happen for our students today. It was a wonderful addition to a project that has meant a lot to our students.

The 2016 Barrow Peace Prize is Ready for Your Votes!

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Our Barrow 2nd graders have been hard at work researching 6 people from history to nominate for the Barrow Peace Prize. As part of this process, the students developed a list of criteria for what character traits should be represented by the winner of the peace prize. They wrote persuasive essays and created pieces of art work with Ms. Foretich, our art teacher.  You can read more about what the students have done in the post, Beginning the Barrow Peace Prize.

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This week, students have been coming in to the library in groups of 4 for 15 minutes to record their persuasive essays. When they come, I give them a quick overview of Flipgrid and remind them that there work will be seen by lots of people. Then, they split up around the library and we make sure that the space is relatively quiet for recording. I setup a question for each person from history so that all of the Ruby Bridges videos are together, all the Langston Hughes videos, etc. During the process, students take a picture of their artwork for the Flipgrid and then record themselves reading. Some chose to show their artwork while recording, and other chose to have their face on the video.

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One of the things I love the most about Flipgrid is that the videos are instantly uploaded in one central place. I don’t have to spend hours uploading and naming 100 videos after students have recorded.

Now that the videos are recorded, we need you and everyone you know to watch the videos and help us decide which person from history should be the 2016 Barrow Peace Prize winner.  I’ve created a Smore page to pull everything together.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Visit https://www.smore.com/dfmsd-2016-barrow-peace-prize 
  • Click on the link to each grid an watch as many videos as you can.
  • Click the heart icon on any video that you “like”.
  • At the bottom of the Smore, you will find a link to the Google form to vote on the person you think should win.  Or…you can click here.
  • Finally, please share our project with your students and networks so that we can have a record-breaking number of votes this year!

On February 18th, we have big plans for how we will announce the winner.  We can’t reveal exactly what is going to happen just yet, but we promise it’s big!  Happy voting!

 

Preparing and Reflecting on Our Immigration Simulation Via Flipgrid

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Each year, our 5th grade studies immigration and Ellis Island as a part of their social studies standards. For these standards, the teachers work together to prepare students for an Ellis Island simulation experience that takes place across the first half of a school day. A lot of preparation goes into this event, and I’m excited that the library was able to be a part of the project.

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Before the actual simulation, each student was assigned an immigrant to become for the day. They received a folder with a short description of where their person was coming from, what he/she was bringing, and possibly a bit about why this person was traveling to America. This was all prepared by the Social Studies teacher, Ms. Olin.

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The teachers and I shared a Google Doc where we started putting links to sites that we thought would be helpful for students as they researched the immigrant experience for immigrants coming to America from their assigned country. I took these links and made a research Symbaloo for students to use.

In the library, I introduced students to this Symbaloo and they each received their folder from Ms. Olin. The Symbaloo link was shared with all students in Google Classroom so that they could easily find it again. In addition to a few details about the immigrant, the folder contained a graphic organizer with some details that students needed to gather in order to construct a letter of introduction for Ellis Island. Students used the organizer and Symbaloo for an hour in the library and then continued their research in social studies and language arts.

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In writing, students constructed their letters of introduction and Ms. Olin printed a copy of each letter to put in student folders. Students returned to the library a couple of days before the simulation. They had time to finish letters, and when they were ready, they  used Flipgrid to practice reading their letters. In the past, we’ve found that some students were a bit nervous on the day of the simulation or took some time to get into their character. Our hope was that the Flipgrid would give students a chance to get comfortable with their character and practice speaking from that perspective before being thrown into the simulation. The Flipgrid also gave them a chance to listen to one another’s stories and research since they don’t have a lot of time to do that on the simulation day.

Here’s a look at how their practice turned out:

On the day of the simulation students rotated through many experiences to take on the role of an immigrant coming to America. Many dressed in costume, carried props, and practiced talking in an accent. They carried their folders that we had worked on throughout the project. Parent and community volunteers came in to help lead the stations so that students were able to go through health inspections, written tests, and legal inspections. Many were questioned multiple times about their health or documents. Many students were sent away to search for missing pieces of their documentation or were held in quarantine for various reasons.

When students finally passed through all of the experiences, they took an oath and had a meager celebration of bread and cheese. During this time of eating, students once again used Flipgrid. We brought them back into this century and asked them to think about their experience. They didn’t have a script for this. We just wanted their initial reaction after completing the simulation. There are some interesting stories of how it felt to be questioned so much or be detained.  You can see their reactions here.

The addition of Flipgrid this  year really helped to prepare students for the simulation, to learn from one another’s stories, and also for us to hear a student perspective of going through the simulation that we might not normally here. Each student had a chance to share his/her voice and many spoke up when they might not have spoken up in front of the whole class.  I keep thinking of new ways to use Flipgrid in my teaching. I love how versatile it is and want to continue to push the limits of how the tool is used.