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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Giving Back to the Community - A History Project for Children

What better way to learn the tools of historians than to take a trip to a local museum to see them firsthand! As my second graders learned about artifacts, documents, photographs, and oral histories from the museum director, Dan Davidson, they quickly realized they had a tool to share as well! Having experimented with the use of QR codes and using iPads for creating videos, they saw a way to add a new dimension to the exhibits at our local museum.

They introduced the idea of capturing oral histories on video, uploading the videos to YouTube, then creating QR codes to be displayed in exhibits. The museum director of our local museum, Museum of Northwest Colorado, was unfamiliar with QR code technology at that time. As the kids explained how it worked, he was extremely supportive of the idea and provided a list of contacts. The class wanted to focus on local elders who had connections to exhibits they saw in the museum.
We began with a series of lessons about the history of our small community and comparisons of photos from the past and today. Using a list of names provided by the museum, we began contacting local elders to invite them to participate in our project. Once contacts were made, and visits scheduled, the class began a series of trips back to the museum to film. Using the exhibit as a backdrop, the students interviewed and filmed each elder telling his or her story. 

After a bit of editing, the videos were uploaded to a museum YouTube channel, QR codes were created and delivered to the museum for display. The project was not only important to the students, it was equally as engaging for the elders we interviewed. More than one asked for an additional opportunity to talk with the kids. One favorite, Myrtle, a delightful friend in her 90's, said she had forgotten to share some of her stories.She visited our classroom to share more, bringing along quilts, photographs, and toys from her past. 

Our project did not end there. With the help of the local newspaper, we organized an event at the museum to introduce the project. We invited those who participated in the oral histories, student family members, and local community members to the museum to see the new QR code displays. People were encouraged to bring along devices. Second graders were on hand to help download apps and teach people how to use QR code readers to see the videos. 

Learning about history was made even more fun and memorable by participating in the gathering of oral histories. The children were excited to be part of introducing a new technology to the displays and they made wonderful new friends. One of the elders scheduled for interview passed away prior to our visit. The children were deeply saddened and realized how very important it is to gather the stories of our elders. We have since lost some of those we were able to capture, but because of the work completed by the children, their wonderful stories will live on at the museum. You can view the videos captured for this project by clicking on this link: 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Friend Magazine: A Valentines Day Treat!


With only a month left before Valentines Day, it is not too early to start planning for a treat filled with literacy skills and, most importantly, fun! Everyone has heard of People magazine, so your students will be thrilled when they hear they are going to create Friend magazine!

There are many ways to connect this activity to standards. Biography, interviewing, listening and speaking, narrative writing, poetry, or whatever literacy skills you may be working on can be incorporated!

The basic steps are:
  • Teach background in interviews and biography.
  • Brainstorm a list of questions that would be interesting to ask a friend. The questions can be as simple as, "What is your favorite sandwich?" to more involved questions like, "What is your favorite memory?" 
  • Create a question list with room for answers or, with older students, have each child create their own personalized list.
  • Partner students. (There are many ways to accomplish this. Draw names, self-selection, teacher assignment, etc. I have actually used this activity with pen pals in a school across town. We visited their school to conduct the interviews and they visited us to enjoy the final product! The same would work with another class in your building, either the same grade level, or perhaps, an older buddy class!)
  • Paired students conduct interviews of one another. The interviewer is responsible for writing down the answers. (This activity, of course, can easily become a digital project as well, but I always used it for a writing assignment. A child who has difficulty writing answers quickly may, however, benefit from recording their partner's answers.)
  • Once all of the information has been gathered, each child becomes responsible for writing an article about his or her friend. 
  • The articles can be written on paper or on a computer. One simple way to organize the project, if you have enough available technology, is to use Google Drive or One Drive. (My students created their articles online then shared the finished work with me. I was then able to compile a complete set of articles.)
  • As the articles are written, revised, and edited, be sure to reinforce the literacy skills you are teaching. This is a wonderful opportunity to stress details and word choice. Remind them that the audience will be classmates and families.
  • Each article should have a photo of the child as well. (My students took pictures of one another with iPads, but again, there are many ways to accomplish this part. With the iPad pictures, students were able to use the Educreations app to add descriptive words and character traits to the picture of their friend.)
  • Once all the articles are complete, print them, with photos, and create a magazine for each child. The cover may say Friend Magazine with a group photo if you like! (Although it is important to conserve paper and be careful with photocopy numbers, this is one project I felt was worth the expense.)
  • The magazine now becomes a reading assignment for Valentines Day. The children love reading about each other and having the magazine as a class keepsake to take home. It can even become an autograph book!

Planning ahead can result in authentic writing and reading to be enjoyed by all and cherished for many years to come! Standards met, lessons learned, and friendships formed! Friendship, after all, is a matter of the heart!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Where in the world do I live? - Sorting it out through actions!

I will never forget the first time I asked first graders where Earth is. While some looked a bit puzzled by my question, others confidently pointed up. Up? Why of course, it is in outer space! Young children are expected to master map skills and to know where they live. If you have ever tried to teach little kids the names and layers of places in which they live, you will understand how very difficult that can be for both student and teacher! I have used songs, books, and the recent Me on the Map crafts and activities that are abundant on Pinterest! In spite of the fact that my students could create the visuals and sing the songs, most remained confused by the difference between city, county, state, country, and continent. At least by the end of the lessons they all pointed to the ground when asked where Earth is!

Now, I have an idea that I think may be just the answer to this difficult learning task for young children! The best part is the map skills can be incorporated into actions that will teach lessons far beyond the simple social studies standards of mapping. We spend so much time in school learning academic skills, that we often forget the importance of building social character skills in our children. Those skills are equally important or, perhaps, even more important in the education of the whole child. Our world is in great need of people who have developed empathy, responsibility, and a sense of caring. Would you rather guide your students to become excellent test-takers or excellent thinkers, problem solvers, and people? In teaching small children where they belong in the world, you can teach them that they and their actions can make a difference...

Begin with a song! Singer-songwriter, and my friend, John Farrell, has written a song that is perfect for this task. It's the Little Things puts into words and music the idea that when we work together, we can make this world a little better. Take the time to teach the song to your students. You can even add hand signs to make it more interesting! 

Once your children know the song, introduce the concepts of space and community. To which communities do they belong? Family, neighborhood, class, school, town, state, country, and world are all communities which include your students. As they think of little things they can do to make the world a little better in their home, school, or town, they also will develop a sense of the place.

As the song says, it's the little things that make a difference. While the ideas need to come from the children, they can include simple ideas like making special cards for the lunch servers, leaving a treat for the custodian, taking the trash out at home without being asked, asking a new friend to play at recess, sharing toys, or writing a letter to Grandma.

Our school developed a special friendship with the residents of a nearby senior housing center.
Classes visited to read or share holiday activities. They made May baskets and Christmas surprises to leave on the doorknobs of the residents. Other classes make sack lunches for our local soup kitchen for the diners to take home for an extra meal. The possibilities are endless! Just ask the kids! They will undoubtedly have more ideas than you can imagine.

One year we had an early snowstorm that broke many branches in our school arboretum. The damage was extensive. The first graders banded together to clean up the area, stacking all of the broken branches and debris in one corner by the gate for the building and grounds people to remove. The sense of ownership and pride was intense as the young students saw what they could accomplish together!

As the students successfully complete acts of kindness at home and at school, challenge them to think of things that might help in the larger community, country, or even the world. My students took on a local deer problem, creating a brochure to help people deal with the growing herd in our town. They took on a global problem as they created a video to ask for help in saving orangutans in Borneo by not purchasing products with palm oil. One of their favorites was learning good sportsmanship by offering a challenge to friends in Seattle during a Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl. We lost, but the kids followed through with smiles as they wished their friends in the Northwest congratulations for the Seahawks win!

As you plan for the coming weeks, remember the hats your students wear... Can they make the world better as a neighbor, a friend, a family member, a class member, a school member, a citizen of the community, a citizen of the country, a citizen of the world? Even the youngest people can make a difference! As they take action, they will sort out their place in the world, and ultimately, make the world a little better!