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!
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.
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.
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!