I have done an inquiry unit for science for four years now. The first year I did it, the students all picked their own animal and worked in small groups to learn about the habitats, life cycle, food web, appearance, and adaptations of animals, which tied to our fourth grade Illinois learning standards for science. The second year was after I participated in the Lake Guardian workshop on Lake Ontario and I chose to focus on fish from the Great Lakes region because I had made a commitment with the workshop to integrate Great Lakes literacy into my curriculum. As Illinois has shifted to the Next Generation Science Standards, I have wrapped the inquiry unit around the standard that students would be able to “construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.” The other fourth grade teacher did an expo in her room last year on animals from Illinois, so we decided to merge our inquiry units and do a shared Illinois Animal Expo this year. Read the rest of this page »
Every now and then I make outlandish claims to students just to see if they are really paying attention to what I am saying. And sometimes those outlandish claims turn into really fun quick projects for my class.
Today provided one of those opportunities.
Each Monday morning in our class meeting, the students get a chance to share what they did over the weekend. The vast majority of my class mentioned staying up to see the super blood moon and the lunar eclipse that happened last night. After every student shared, I told them what I did: took a nap on Saturday afternoon, watched the new Cinderella movie that evening, and orchestrated the lunar eclipse on Sunday evening.
One student said, “Wow, that’s awesome. Mr. Valencic!”
The rest of the class said, “Wait… what?! You didn’t cause the lunar eclipse!”
I said, “Oh, really? Okay, you have ten minutes to prove me wrong. You’ve got your Chromebooks and our science books. Go for it!”
For the next ten minutes, nearly every student in my class was reading articles about lunar eclipses and learning more about what causes a blood moon and a super moon. Then they shared with each other what they learned. There were discussions about the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the moon and the earth’s orbit around the sun (one student said something about the sun orbiting the earth but his classmate’s quickly corrected him). And they all convincingly proved that I didn’t actually cause the eclipse.
I did get to take a nice long nap on Saturday afternoon, though, and I really did watch the new Cinderella movie that evening.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend the Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington, Illinois, each May for the past three years. In the process I have met awesome young people who write fantastic stories and also have been able to network with professional published authors from our state. Through this conference, I have been able to introduce my students to wonderful new books. I have also, from time to time, struck up professional friendships with these writers.
I decided this year to use several of the books I have received at the conference for read-alouds with my class. One of the first books I selected was a work of fiction by Todd Hasak-Lowy called 33 Minutes … Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt. One reason I picked this book, other than it being such a great story, was that it was inspired, in a way, by Mr. Hasak-Lowy’s own experiences in middle school. When I do my realistic fiction narrative writing unit with my class, one of the suggestions is for students to select personal experiences and use them as the “seed” for their stories. During the Young Authors Conference this past May, I mentioned this to Mr. Hasak-Lowy and he thought it would be a wonderful connection and offered to do a Skype chat or something similar with my class to share his writing process.
We started reading 33 Minutes during the second week of school. It has been an interesting experience, because the narrative style is very different from what my students are used to. Instead of being a fairly linear tale, it jumps back and forth between the present and the past. Instead of numbered chapters, each section is separated with a timestamp. All throughout, students get a picture of what other students may think about middle school: the challenges of finding where you fit in, dealing with teachers who are either excessively strict, excessively passive, or excessively passionate about geeky matters, and, of course, the end of lifelong friendships.
I wasn’t sure how well my class was accepting the story, but we finished it today and the majority of the class felt it was a great story! At least one student went to the local library and acquired a copy so he could reread the entire book. (He actually passed us and finished the book a day earlier than we did!)
Now that we are done, I will be contacting Mr. Hasak-Lowy to see if he is still willing and able to chat with my students via Skype. I understand how busy authors often are, though, but I know that my students would be thrilled to chat with a “real” author!
This is the fourth guest post written by students. I have a feeling that these particular students were trying to flatter me. I appreciate the compliments, even if it is a bit difficult to follow.
Mr. Valencic is nice and sweet. And he love us no matter what. on Thursday Mr.Valencic had to o to a meeting and we had a sub for when we were in 3rd grade and he is so nice and we were doing math. And he was so cool Because he let a kid teach because he was talking to his friends and he was so nice that what he does in 3rd grade. Now we are in mr .V class and he is coolest because he is a movie star and he came 1st place and he is a nice teacher because he is a movie star forever. And he is a super hero of teaching. and he the loves kids and teachers.
As always, I did not make any changes to what they wrote. I think what I am going to start doing is having the class edit the post for mechanics (not style) on the following Monday.
Have a wonderful weekend!
I have been using Front Row in my class for differentiated math instruction for my students since last year. It has worked really well and has helped me keep students engaged in improving their math skills at their current instructional levels. The Front Row team recently developed multi-day math lessons for all grade levels that cover a variety of Common Core math standards.
As the instructional technology specialist for my building, I’ve been able to keep in close communication with the Front Row team and got to preview some of these lesson units in advance. One of the units for fourth grade focuses on students’ ability to read and write multi-digit whole numbers using their understanding place value. The unit is spread out over the course of three days and centers around a fictional series of elections for mayor, governor, and president.
My student teacher and I planned on her beginning to lead Number Talks in our room this week, and the Front Row unit provided a perfect framework for doing this. Constitution Day (September 17) also happens to be this week, so it was a perfect combination of opportunities and needs that led us to decide to use this unit this week with my class.
We did the first lesson today and it went really well. My student teacher started the lesson with a Number Talk that involved using mental math strategies to multiply a two-digit number by a one-digit number, then we transitioned over to me for the remainder of the lesson. The students worked in their desk clusters of six to analyze election results from absentee ballots and polling places to determine who won the mayoral race. Then they shared their strategies with the whole class. One group discovered that they had only counted the absentee ballots and forgot about the votes collected on the day of the election. The great part was that the students were using the respectful transition phrases we encouraged, such as “I disagree with ____ because ____” or “Another way to think about how ____ solved the problem is _____.”
One thing I learned from our activity today was that groups of six are too big for the collaborative conversations needed, so my student teacher and I looked through the exit slips the students turned in and set up groups of three, which we will introduce tomorrow. All in all, though, this lesson went over very well and I am excited to see what the students do tomorrow!