The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “First Grade

Acoustical Engineering, Part II

I haven’t forgotten about my blog, I promise! I was out sick last week and thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then I had a sore throat that persisted for several days. I finally went to the doctor about it and, after she ran a culture test, learned that I had streptococcal pharyngitis (aka strep throat). I immediately started a course of antibiotics, but I had to wait 24 hours before I was no longer potentially contagious. So that’s why I haven’t been updating. Even when I was at work, I was sick enough that I’d get home and simply crash until the next day. I’m feeling much better, though, and hopefully my blogging will pick up, too!

Miss C and I have been having a lot of fun with our Learning Buddies model this year. The students have done so much more than just reading! They have learned poetry for Veterans’ Day, studied the Preamble to the US Constitution for Constitution Day, made maps of the classroom for a geography unit, participated in a “walk and talk” book summary, and, the biggest project so far, learned about acoustical engineering through the Engineering Is Elementary series!

If you had asked me at the start of the year if I thought fourth graders could wrap their heads around the fundamentals of acoustical engineering, I’d have said no. Maybe the very basic idea that acoustical engineering deals with sound, but more than that? No way! If you had asked me if first graders could understand it, I would have laughed out loud. But as Miss C and looked at our science standards and conferred with our amazing Instructional Coach, we realised it was possible. We knew it would take a lot of planning, but we were excited to try it out.

We spent several weeks meeting during our shared plan time at school, going through the lesson materials, figuring out what we would present, how we would present it, and when it would be presented. We talked about what we wanted our students to understand. And then we got started. I wrote about the first part of this project back in January, when we first began with Kwame’s Sounds. Since then, the students have learned about the Engineering Design Process:

They worked through the process to design, build, and improve musical instruments made from upcycled materials, such as soda bottles, cereal boxes, whipped topping containers, and rubber bands. Then they learned about methods of dampening sound and controlling it. Along the way, our amazing students learned that sound is caused by vibrations, that slow vibrations have a deeper pitch and fast vibrations have a higher pitch. They shared that acoustical engineers design solutions that deal with sound. They learned that engineering is something that they can do, even at an early age!

To celebrate the completion of this project, we brought our classes together this afternoon to watch a movie showing a percussion group using the principles of acoustical engineering to create music using everyday objects. Some may be familiar with this group. The students enjoyed watching the video, even though they didn’t get to see all of it. For those who have never heard of STOMP, here is the video we watched:

I am really excited for the next Learning Buddies project that Miss C and I undertake! We aren’t going to tell anyone what it is yet, but I guarantee it is going to be amazing!


Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2015

Each year our school has a special assembly to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know how long this tradition has gone on, but I know it has been many, many years. This year’s assembly kind of snuck up on us, in part because of the two “cold days” we had right after winter break, which is when we usually plan and organise the assembly.

However, we were still able to put together a great program, in large part due to the Herculean efforts of our visual arts teacher and one of our dance/drama/music teachers. Different classes put together presentations, including songs, videos, and poetry recitals. The first graders sang a song about being peacemakers. One of the third grade classes shared a video about ways that they can make Dr. King’s dream a reality. A fifth grade class presented a video of students reading excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes. The other fifth grade class did a song. One of the fourth grade classes (not mine) did an animation based on a poem about Dr. King. (My class was going to do an animation to a song by the Beatles but we simply ran out of time.)

The entire assembly was led by the handsome engagement director guy from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, who has been a long-time friend to Wiley Elementary School and has become a part of our school family over the years. Families were invited to attend and join in group singing while celebrating the work of a man who dedicated his life to ending racial inequality and fighting for justice. Our society still has a long way to go before we truly achieve the dream that Dr. King shared, but I truly believe we are doing better than we were in the past. This weekend, take some time to reflect on not just what Dr. King did, but also the other men and women who struggled to bring about civil rights for all people.

Acoustical Engineering

Miss C and I recently started an incredibly awesome project with our Learning Buddies. They are doing a science unit on acoustical engineering, using resources recently acquired by our instructional coach. For the next several weeks, they will be exploring problems related to sound and using the engineering process to learn about the problem, imagine a solution, develop a plan, create a solution, and improve it after testing it out.

We started last week with a pre-assessment by asking the first and fourth graders to tell us what sound is and then to think about a way to communicate a song. This week we both read a story to our classes called Kwame’s Sound about a boy in Ghana who is going to be playing the drum for an Odwira with his cousin Kofi and has to figure out how to share the rhythm he came up with. The challenge is that Kwame is blind and so he can’t use traditional written music. He uses his knowledge of the engineering design process that his acoustical engineer father has taught him.

When the students were together this afternoon, we had the students identify the elements of the engineering design process and then had them work on an assignment coming up with different words (onomatopoeias) to describe the sounds made by drums, elephants, birds, cell phones, and other things. One thing we discovered pretty quickly is that it is really, really, really difficult to come up with words that represent the sound an elephant makes. We have words to describe how the sounds is made, such as trumpeting, but we don’t have a true word for it. As a result, it was a lot of fun seeing what our students came up with!

I am really excited about this project and can hardly wait to see what our students will do next as they learn about acoustical engineering and actually put it into practice! If you had asked me even a month ago if I thought children under the age of 10 could even say the word “acoustical,” let alone use it correctly, I would have laughed! Now, though, I know better! We have a group of nearly 40 students who can define acoustical engineering, describe what acoustical engineers do, and explain the engineering design process!

Oh, and my class also knows what fufu is. Two of my students have even eaten it regularly. I may see if I can get one of their parents to make some to share with the class.

Veterans’ Day

For a multitude of reasons beyond my immediate control, students in the Urbana School District had class today. In the past, Veterans’ Day has been one of the federal holidays observed by the district with a day of no attendance. Many parents and teachers were concerned about what would happen with having class on this day.

I can only speak from my very limited experience as just one teacher in just one room in just one of the six elementary schools in the district, but I felt like it was a wonderful day!

We started the morning off by discussing what Veterans’ Day is, why we observe it, and the understanding that it is not a holiday like the Fourth of July with celebrations and parties and barbecues but more of a day of quiet observation and reflection as we think about the freedoms we enjoy in this nation and find ways to thank the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard) to protect not just our nation but also our allies and friends in other countries. I wanted my students to understand that we are all connected to these veterans in different ways. I told them about one of my older brothers, Anton, who served as an officer in the United States Air Force in Iraq. Several students shared stories about their family members and wars they have fought in, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We learned that we have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the military.

Later in the morning I had the students learn more about Veterans’ Day by researching the holiday with their Chromebooks. They explored questions such as

  • “What is Veterans’ Day?”
  • “Why do we observe it?”
  • What memorials to soldiers can be found in our community?
  • “How is it observed in other countries?”

At 11:11 am, the entire school paused for a minute of silent reflection as a guest played Taps over the PA system. This was in honour of the armistice agreement that marked the end of hostilities on the Western Front during the first World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Our entire school had a very special Veterans’ Day assembly in the afternoon. I had the privilege of leading a flag ceremony with a colour guard of students in 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade who are actively involved in either Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts. They were invited to wear their Class A uniforms to school and I wore mine (I am the Cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 111). Later in the program, Miss C and I, along with our student teachers, led our Learning Buddies in a recital of In Flanders Fields. The students had been practicing for two weeks and did a wonderful job! During the assembly, we recognised current and retired members of the Armed Forces who came as our honoured guests. We sang America and watched a slide show of photos of war memorials and Wiley family members who have been in the military.

After the assembly, my class had the privilege of welcoming one of the honoured guests in our classroom. He graciously answered students’ questions about life in the Army, his experiences, and his role. At the very end of the day, each student in the building received a red poppy made by war veterans in the VA hospital in Danville that were donated by the local chapter of the VFW.

I am so grateful to my colleagues who worked to make sure that this day would not become just another day of school. It was wonderful to come together as a school and to give thanks to the men and women in our lives who have served to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic . . .” Thank you all!

Walk and Talk

One of the many newsletters, blogs, and other writings related to education that I receive is The Big Fresh newsletter, produced by Choice Literacy. This is a site that provides a vast array of tools, strategies, lessons, and advice on teaching literacy at all levels. The newsletter, which I get in my email each Saturday morning, offers a collection of resources, mostly in the form of teachers’ blog posts, about literacy instruction. About a month ago, I read a newsletter post from Brenda Power, founder of Choice Literacy, about a strategy she uses called “Walk and Talk.”

One of my favorite ways to break routine with students and colleagues in the fall has always been a “Walk and Talk.” The activity couldn’t be simpler. A brief article, issue, or idea is shared in the classroom, and then we pair up and go outside to walk and enjoy the sunshine while the partners discuss a focus question based on the reading or topic. After 20 minutes, everyone comes back to share insights and next steps.

I shared this with several of my colleagues, including Miss C, who immediately suggested we consider using it with our learning buddies. Of course, then we had several days of rainy, gloomy weather, so we had to put off trying it out. Today, though, promised to be sunny and warm (comparatively) and we decided to modify it for our needs.

We decided to have the students walk one lap around the front of the schoolyard. Both classes have been working on identifying the beginning, middle, and end of a story, so we wanted the buddies to complete a graphic organiser for this purpose. Before they started walking, they had to pick a book and write a brief summary of the beginning. Then they walked to the halfway point of the perimeter sidewalk and stopped to write a summary of the middle of the text. They finished the lap and wrote about the end of the story. While walking, they were expected to talk about the story that had been selected.

It turned out to be an excellent strategy! The students were all engaged, they got to enjoy some extra sunshine and get some physical activity in, and their organisers turned out to be written very well! I am hoping that the pleasant weather will last longer so that I can use this strategy with my class on their own, too. And maybe Miss C and I will have our buddies do it again before it starts raining and (ugh) snowing this year!


Kind Words, Kind Actions

A recurring theme in my classroom this year is going to be the importance of kind words and kind actions. Kindness, in general, is such an important thing to be able to do and be. Kindness is being able to disagree without being disagreeable. Kindness is being able to treat others with respect. Kindness is looking for the good in others and letting others see the good in you. Kindness is being considerate, to think about others and to show empathy; to stop before you react and think about how your actions will impact those around you.

We start the year reading different books about kindness, most notably Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We also watch a music video that a youth group made about kind words and how they lift others up. I made a bulletin board for my class last year that featured the kind words that my students used to describe one another. Miss C, our first grade partner, did a similar thing with her class. I also had a bulletin board that featured the kind actions. The theme for these two boards was “Words can build us up; actions lift us higher!” I decided to keep this bulletin board going this year, but updated with my class, of course!

We watched the music video I used last year and then we talked about how we can use kind words to describe one another. I gave each of the students a class list and asked them to write a word or phrase to describe each person in the room. Then I collected these, typed up the lists, and made a collection of word clouds using Tagxedo. After printing them, I coloured in the students’ names and posted them on the bulletin board outside our classroom.


To build on this project, the students are going to make a list of the positive, kind things that have been said and done to them this week. Then, on Friday, they are going to do a write-up of what was said and how it made them feel. I will also have them think about the kind things they have said and done and think about how that made them feel, too. Positive social skills are so important to creating a healthy learning environment! No matter how awesome the tools we have are, no matter how great I may be at teaching, learning will not be as effective, as meaningful, if the classroom environment isn’t a safe, positive, healthy place where students can take risks, challenge thinking, and explore the world around them. And it all starts with choosing kindness.

Building Communities Where Everyone Counts

I’ve written about a couple of books that I recently discovered in the past, but I wanted to focus on this growing series of simple yet profound books today. All of them are by an author named Kathryn Otoshi. She writes and illustrates these stories that are aimed at young children, but they have messages that should resonate deeply with every human being.

The first one I read was, coincidentally, called One. It tells the story of standing up for others and teaches that One really, truly can make a difference just by speaking out. I shared it with my class last year and again with my students and their learning buddies this year.

The second book I found by this author was introduced to me by my student teachers last spring. It, too, had a simple one-word name that was a number: Zero. Miss C and I used this as the very first read aloud with our buddied students and talked about how important it is to make sure that everyone counts and everyone feels needed.

Then I heard from a good friend and first grade teacher in my district that Ms. Otoshi had written a third book, Two. It isn’t often that I run to the bookstore on the day a book is being released to buy something I had never read before. But this was one of those times! As soon as we got in the car, I handed the book to my wife and asked her to read it while I was driving. Two continues to teach about building community, this time with the idea that excluding others hurts everyone.

I love the simple message these books share. Everyone should count. Everyone should matter. Everyone should be included. I hope that Ms. Otoshi continues to write about all of the numbers and then I hope she’ll tell us the stories about the colours, too! I also hope that she reads this short post and knows that her stories matter to me, to my colleagues, and to my students.

Oh, and to celebrate this new book I shared with my students and their learning buddies today, there was only one shirt I could wear to work:

Photo on 10-1-14 at 4.59 PM