My students recently completed a unit on Westward Expansion as part of our social studies curriculum. This unit is one of my favourite topics to teach each year because the students always amaze me with their creativity and effort as they prepare final reports.
I have changed the format of the project that accompanies this unit each year. Students have written reports, they have been given absolute freedom to do anything they wanted to share what they had learned, they have worked on their own or in groups. This year I allowed students to pick groups of three or four, select an important route related to Westward Expansion (the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Mormon Trail, Pony Express, or Transcontinental Railroad), and then assigned each group to make a diorama reflecting a scene from the history of their trail.
What made this an extra challenge is that the only materials I gave the students were boxes from our Chromebooks. The students repurposed materials in the boxes, found construction paper, and creatively used glue and tape to create their dioramas. They also had to answer several questions about their trail, explaining how, when, and why the trail was used and its impact on Westward Expansion.
It was a great unit and a wonderful way to wrap up our major social studies topics. Now we have just a handful of days to finish up science, math, and keep on reading and writing until they very last minute of the very last day!
I believe I mentioned, not too long ago, that my class somehow managed to have three field trips scheduled within a two-week period. The first was our trip to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to listen to the Youth Concert performance of Peter and the Wolf by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra.
Two days later, on Wednesday, we took our two fourth grade classes to Springfield for an extended-day trip. After gathering at the school at 7:30 am and hitting the road at 7:45, our first stop was actually an emergency bathroom break. (I guess we didn’t explain the necessity of using the restroom before we left as well as we had thought.) We quickly regrouped and made it to our first scheduled site, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, just a few minutes later than planned. The students got to explore the museum in small groups of five (thank you so much to all of the awesome parents who were able to accompany us and chaperone our groups!!!) for about an hour. I did not have a group assigned to me, which let me roam and keep an eye on all of my groups. An added benefit of this was being able to listen to fantastic conversations and observations from our students. I loved how quickly they discovered gems of information and eagerly shared them with their classmates and their adults!
Our next stop was the Capitol Complex Visitors Center, where we ate lunch at the picnic area. It was 20°C (almost 70°F), sunny, and clear: perfect weather for an outdoor luncheon! Once we finished eating, we walked the block or so to the Illinois State Capitol and had a guided tour of that beautiful building! The students got to walk all the way to the fourth floor, sit in the gallery seats of the House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate, see the Governor’s Reception Area, admire the ornate rotunda dome, and learn about the original Supreme Court room.
Our last stop for the day was the Illinois State Museum. Once again students got to explore in their small groups, learning about the geological history of our state and some of the early peoples who lived here before European settlers came through. We only had about half an hour, but it was a great way to wrap up a very long day!
As soon as we got back home, students were sent to either walk home or meet their parents, ready for a four-day weekend! (Teachers had inservice meetings on Thursday, so we only got a three-day weekend.)
I love bringing my students to Springfield! It was so awesome to see the learn together, explore together, and discover together. We will come back to Illinois history after we complete a unit on Westward expansion, and then finish out the year’s social studies inquiry learning about the history of our small urban community here in East Central Illinois!
I love teaching. I love everything about teaching. I love everything I get to teach. This passionate love for what I do and how I do it transfers to just about everything in my classroom. It also explains why nearly every new unit or topic is introduced to my students as “one of my favourite things.”
All this week, I have been teaching yes, one of my favourite topics of American history: the American Revolutionary War. I do this through a series of narrative discussions with my students. I decided to call it “Story Time with Mr. Valencic” even though it isn’t just me telling the story.
We actually started two weeks ago by having students reading articles on the Front Row Social Studies series about the events leading up to the war, including the French and Indian War, the Stamp Act, and the Boston Massacre. Then we moved to some of the major events of the war: the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Declaration of Independence, the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, the Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of Yorktown, and the Articles of Confederation. These events are told through a combination of Google Slides presentations and videos. At the end of each lesson, the students compete against each other in a Kahoot! quiz to see who can get the most correct answers.
We are about halfway through the war now. I know there are so many other events we could discuss, but we are hindered by time and resources. So even though I know that there are other important events we are leaving out, I am heartened to know that my students are learning. How do I know this? Because one of my students told me on the way to lunch yesterday that she was actually learning!
Right before Winter Break, my fourth grade partner and I spent a day looking at student literacy data and talking about ways we could better meet the needs of our four dozen or so students. One thing we realised was that we could more effectively and efficiently serve them by changing the way we grouped students for guided reading. Instead of each forming groups from our own classes, we put all of the data for all of our students together and made groups based on that new information. What happened was that about half of my students would be in groups with her and about half of her students would be in groups with me.
We looked at our schedules, bumped some things around, and found a way to both have our main literacy block at the same time. We started this shortly after the second semester resumed and have been meeting at least twice a week to discuss progress, strengths, weaknesses, and any changes we need to make.
Initially, I was meeting with all five of my new groups every day. Then I tried meeting with four groups each day by alternating days with two of the groups. Last week, as we looked at data further, I decided to tweak the schedule a little bit more so that I only meet with three groups on any given day. This has had the benefit of letting me a) give more time to students when I meet with them in their small groups and b) give them more time to work on independent tasks. With this newly tweaked schedule, my students now go to three of four possible twenty-minute stations: Teacher Time (only three of my five groups each day), Read to Self (every group), Writing (every group), and Front Row (two of the three groups, namely, the two not meeting with me for Teacher Time).
At the same time, we decided to use an article series on the newly released Front Row Social Studies page as the foundation of our guided reading texts. Each article is published at multiple grade levels so we can differentiate as needed for our diverse groups of learners. For each article, students read it online, complete a brief comprehension quiz, and have a written response. I would like to say that the students are blowing me away with both their excellent understanding of the texts and with their detailed analyses of what they have read, but that would not be true.
What I am learning, instead, is that many of them are struggling with connecting what they have read and what they know with the questions being given to them. I am also learning that they are not writing very detailed responses. In fact, several students are only writing one or two sentences, while others have copied the entire article and pasted it into their response.
Fortunately, I am able to take this information and use it in my instruction! My student teacher is starting to take over more and more of the teaching responsibilities in the classroom, which means that I can work with more students on specific, targeted skills. I am hopeful that this will result in improved output from students, not because of a test or any arbitrary, artificial metric, but because being able to communicate clearly and effectively with others is an important life skill that I want all of my students to develop!
It has been a long three weeks or so without Chromebooks in our classroom. There was an issue with the district’s cache servers shortly after school started that resulted in all devices having to be shut off and put away until they could resolve the issue. Today was the first day we were able to access the devices and wow, what a difference it made!
When I first got my cart of Chromebooks, I signed an agreement that I would infuse technology into my classroom practices and instruction. I spent the past two years or so researching websites and online learning tools, trying them out with my students, studying best practices of technology integration, and generally designing my classroom around the use of Chromebooks throughout the day.
Some people have expressed shock that my students access their devices first thing in the morning and keep them out until the end of the day. They are not on them all day, of course, but they are nearby and used much more than they are not.
During our mathing workshop, students use their Chromebooks to access sites such as Zearn, Front Row, Prodigy, and XtraMath to support and supplement their learning and help them improve on skills. The devices are accessed for fluency practice and for independent work while I am with small groups.
During our inquiry workshop, the Chromebooks become the principle tool for researching a variety of topics, keeping notes, and demonstrating learning through multimedia presentations. The students also use their devices to communicate with one another using shared documents in Google Drive.
During our writing workshop, students take their early drafts and type them into Google Docs, then use the available tools to edit, revise, and format as they prepare for publication. They also use the Chromebooks to research ideas and find better ways to express ideas.
During our reading workshop, the Chromebooks are used as students access eBooks through Storia, read articles on Wonderopolis and Newsela, continue writing that they started during writing workshop, and engage in creative writing through Storybird. They also record reading through sites like Whooo’s Reading.
On top of all that, we use our devices for online quizzes through Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Kahoot! Students take brain and body breaks with sites like GoNoodle and find ways to focus with music accessed through Google Play. (We have access to the full suite of Google Apps for Education.) They review and discuss digital citizenship through the Common Sense Media Digital Passport and share projects with one another, with students in other classes, and with their families.
Like I said, I have a technology-infused classroom. So we were all very excited when we were given the green light to start using our devices again! I can hardly wait to see what my students do with their devices tomorrow!
September 20, 2016 | Categories: Fourth Grade | Tags: Fourth Grade, Language Arts, Mathematics, Philosophy, Reading, Science, Social & Emotional Learning, Social Studies, Technology, Writing | Leave a comment
As part of my goal to have my students’ days full of inquiry and student-centered learning instead of traditional teacher-led lessons and independent work, I have organised my daily schedule around four major workshops. With one excepting, each of these workshops is titled by a verb ending in -ing. The four workshops are as follows:
I decided to use the word “mathing” instead of just “math” because I want my students to think of math as something they actively do. We are using Eureka Math in my district this year, a curriculum series designed around the Common Core State Standards by teachers, for teachers. A committee of teachers in my district selected Eureka Math among many options as our new math series (replacing the old textbooks published by Houghton-Mifflin.) As the students become more familiar with the language and format of Eureka Math, I will give the students the opportunity to do math independently, with partners, and in skills-based small groups each day. We will also be using technology through websites such as Front Row, Zearn, and XtraMath.
I am continuing to use the Lucy Calkins framework for Writing Workshop to help the students improve their skills as writers. Students will have short 15-minute lessons each day on a specific writing task related to narratives, essays, opinion pieces, or other writing formats. Then they will have 30 minutes to work on their own writing as I meet with students individually or in small groups. We started this today with an overview of the format and then with students doing a quick write on the topic of pie. (I learned that some of my students, like me, love pie while others absolutely hate it. All of their beginning drafts were quite passionate on the subject!)
Our third daily workshop is designed around the Daily 5 and the idea that students benefit from being able to read independently, read with someone, meet with the teacher in a guided reading group, and work on developing vocabulary every day. We will also have daily read alouds and will read together as a class so that they can experience the fifth daily activity, listening to reading. Right now we are working on building up stamina to read independently so that we can start implementing the other activities later over the next couple of weeks.
My last workshop focuses on general inquiry, during which the students will be learning a variety social studies and science topics. I have been able to arrange my schedule so that this can happen every single day. Our social studies topics will focus on asking (and answering) one big question: how and why are we here? The science topics will be aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and will focus on deepening students’ understanding of the scientific inquiry and engineering design processes.
I am really excited to use this workshop model for the year! I hope that my students are just as excited!
In Urbana School District #116, we are very proud of our fine arts programming that is available for all students in all grade levels. In the elementary schools, my students are able to attend special classes for visual arts, music, drama, and dance. In addition, classroom teachers are able to arrange for arts infusion projects with the fine arts teachers, tying the classroom curriculum to the arts. I am not always able to take advantage of such infusion projects, but I was really excited to do one to go along with our social studies unit on colonial America.
I talked with our dance teacher and she was able to find out information about a traditional colonial era dance called the Sir Roger de Coverley (sometimes spelled Coverly) dance. This is a group dance that involves six pairs (traditionally male and female partners, but can easily be done with any arrangement of pairs). We modified it slightly to better accommodate our students and to keep them more actively involved.
After practicing once a week for several weeks, we had a demonstration this morning. Parents, family, and friends were invited to attend, along with our kindergarten buddies. My students demonstrated for the dance first and did an amazing job remembering all of the steps and the turns! Then they invited the audience to join in and they taught the dance to them! Several parents took videos and pictures; alas, because I was helping to prompt the students, I was unable to do either. (Any parents who were there, please feel free to upload to Google Drive and share your videos or pictures with me or burn them onto a disc!)
As I told our audience at the end, the entire thing went about 500 times better than I could have hoped for! There was so much laughter and fun and clapping and enjoyment all around! I love being able to infuse the arts into my curriculum and hope to fit in at least one more project before the end of the year. (I already have an idea in my head to discuss with our music teacher but I haven’t talked to her about it at all yet so I don’t know if we will be able to pull it off or not!)
Thank you to everyone who came out to support my students! They were so excited to see so many people there for them and they had a wonderful time teaching what they had learned to others!
How do you connect the arts to what you are doing?