Class Pet Petitions

I don’t know how long you’ve been reading, or how far back you’ve gone through the post archives, so I’m wondering if I’ve told you about class meetings yet?  I wrote about the big idea behind them here, and the story was pretty great.  This class is doing an amazing job with class meetings, too.  Each week, though, when we sit down together to reflect upon the week and talk over things we want to improve upon, there aren’t really any problems to solve.  Oh, come on.  No way, right?  No really–we had to change the last question on our meeting protocol to “What do you want to talk about?” rather than “What do we need to improve upon?” because of how well these kids work together, learn together and just generally follow the rules and procedures of our school.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re not perfect.  We do work things out together.  This week was an example of two kinds of issues to discuss.

 
Like class pet petitions, for instance.  Here is what the flipchart from this week’s class meeting:

So, see all those dots after “class pets petition?”  It meant that several people wanted to talk about that topic.  But again, it wasn’t because it was a problem.  They just wanted to talk about it.  They needed to decide whether or not it was a good idea for Ames to make us an origami class pet, and if so, what type of animal we’d want to have.  We decided that Ames (as the origami master of our class) would narrow the list down to four of his best creatures, and we’d vote on the one we liked best out of those four.  Then we’ll chat about it again next week.

Ok, so there did end up being a concern they did want to try to work out, and it was related to recess.  A question was posed about what to do when you try to play with people and they tell you you can’t.  We had a great conversation about strategies to try, words we could use and how it felt when someone told you you couldn’t be a part of the group.  The idea of “popular” kids was brought up, and the concern was raised that there are some people in our grade who won’t play with certain kids because they’re friends with certain other people who are considered weird or different.  It hurt my heart as I heard them talk about what was going on outside on the playground, and we decided that it might mean we needed a grander conversation.  We agreed that we would do what we could to support each other outside–like paying attention to when people are alone and inviting them to play, or standing up for our classmates if we see or hear something mean being done to them–but we agreed that this might be a topic that would be better discussed with our whole grade level.  So I have “homework” to coordinate a 5th grade recess conversation in the next few days.  This was definitely a problem worth tackling, and one that we want to see solved.

 

List-Group-Label: Science Work with Weather Words

I wrote about this topic last year here.  And like last year, I started my weather unit today with the same activity.  But that doesn’t mean that our experience was the same.  I have a different group of kiddos, with different knowledge and understanding, and I gave a different set of directions of how this protocol would work.  So yes, it’s similar, as many things are year-to-year, but it’s not nearly the same.
As with most every unit we begin, we start with vocabulary words that students will need to know.  Today we used the protocol List-Group-Label to do this introduction.  Here’s the big idea of how it works:

So, like I mentioned before, I had a couple of added directions this time around that helped further thinking.   When tribes got to the GROUPing part, rather than tell them how to make their poster look, we talked about how they needed to make a decision about the best kind of graphic organizer to use for their information.  I also took this opportunity to introduce the phrase “You gotta build the house before you decorate it.”  We talked about how you could “fancy” up your poster if you had some time at the end, but that the most important thing was to get your thinking down first, to show what you know about weather in an organized way.

We spent about 10 minutes on the list-group-label part, then took a short gallery walk to each tribe’s poster.  As they visited other posters, they were to notice what words others used, how they organized their thinking, and if there were any ideas they could “steal” to add to their own sheet once they returned.  After spending about 30 seconds at each poster, they had two minutes to tweak their own work before we were finished.

It was great to hear them work together in their groups to put words together, and think about how they could label each category.  Look at it in progress:

 

And then here is what we ended up with after our work time:

The Legendary 4

The Crazy Dragons (they even signed their work with their tribe name!)

The SBF

The J.A.A.Zicles

The Wild Spirits

Please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.  We’d love to continue to learn with you.   What other words would you suggest we put on our lists?

 

Mental Models and The Mississipians at Cahokia

Our first Social Studies unit of the year (well, the first “official” one after we set up our classroom community) was a doozey (is that how you spell that??).  Let me back up.  The theme for 5th grade SS is Three Worlds Meet, and so we study the Native Americans, Ancient West Africa and Medieval Europe, then look at how all of those cultures merged and became the Colonies.  The first unit, while being about Native Americans–specifically the Mississippians at Cahokia and the Iroquois–was also about bigger things related to mental models.

What are mental models, you ask?  Check out this example that we use to help explain them to kiddos (taken from the text we use during this unit):

We begin by looking at the mental models that many kids have about Native Americans.  Many of these are things like that they live in tepees, they wear buffalo skin or feather headdresses, they are savage hunters and that they danced and chanted.  None of these mental models are wrong, so to speak, but as we go through the unit, we hope that by learning new things about specific groups of Native Americans, their mental models will be challenged.  And maybe changed because of their new knowledge.

We specifically study the Mississippians at Cahokia, or just Cahokians, because they are from an area very close to where we live in Missouri.  Cahokia, Illinois is just a hop, skip and a jump across the Mississippi River from the area that these kiddos know so well. For that reason, they are more easily able to make connections and inferences about how the Cahokians may have lived–and they realize that in many ways these people are more similar to them than they are different.

I mentioned before that there is a text we use, which is broken down into the five disciplines of Social Studies (history, economics, geography, culture and civics) and these disciplines provide the framework for all of the conversations and activities that we do during this unit.  First we learn what each of those are generally, then are able to zoom in on them more specifically to Cahokia (and later to the Iroquois, but I’ll tell about that in a later post).

Before we jump into our text, however, we have a lesson about figuring out the difference between important and interesting when you’re reading, so you know which parts to pay most attention to as a reader and learner.  We discovered that it all looks important, until we look more closely at the purpose of why we’re reading.  For example, if we are reading to find the answer to a certain question, then the only important things are the ones related to answering that question–all the rest is just interesting for now.  If we are reading just to find out about economics, then only the ideas related to economics (not history, culture or any of the other groups) are important for now.  As we also discovered, what’s important changes based on your goal.

Ok, now that we know how to pick out the parts we need to remember, we got busy into the real work of this unit.  In short, for every discipline, we read a section of the text and underlined what was important, then made a class list of those key ideas.  After that, we created big window-sized posters with representations we made to show each of the big ideas.

Nice, right?  An art project to help us remember what we read about.  Fun, too.  Yes, but it’s not that simple.  There are very specific rules about how you are to go about creating your representation:

1. You may use paper and anything that holds paper together (i.e. paper clips, tape, glue, glue sticks, etc.).

2. You may not use scissors.

3. You may not use any writing utensils.

What was once just a simple show-me-what-you-remember-from-what-you-just-read type activity is now a challenge to think outside the box, to be creative, to solve problems.  So I was all the more impressed with what they came up with, the quality of their images, and the creative ways that they figured out to get their job done–like using the edge of a ruler or a paper clip to score paper so you can tear it neatly in the shape you want it, rather than cutting.  Or using the punched-out pieces from a hole punch together to create a picture.  Amazing, really.

Here’s what our posters look like once we were finished–which really took us about 6-7 school days to accomplish:

 

 

 

 

 

Besides the fact that these hold a lot of information and show what we’ve learned about what’s important about the Cahokians, I love how they look hanging on the windows:

As we were working on these projects, it was so great to see the group/partner work that was taking place, the problems that were being solved as they created their pieces, and the smiles on their faces as they worked.  I was so glad at how many kiddos voiced to me how much they loved doing this because it was “so different from anything I’ve ever done before.”  They told me how the rule of not using scissors and pencils “made their brains think in a new way and challenged me in a new way.”  Gotta love it when kiddos say those things out loud!  It’s exactly what I had hoped was happening.

On a side note, these posters hung in our room throughout the whole Cahokia unit, and we came back to them time after time, as we made connections between different aspects of Cahokia, our own lives, and then as we moved into learning about the Iroquois.  I’m actually going to be sad later this week when they have to come down to make room for other things. 😦

 

Math Warm-Ups Sept. 17-21, 2012

I think I said it in my last post, but golly–being sick is hard!  Someone around my house has had a cough for at least a month now, and I’ve had one for at least 2 weeks!  Hence my absence from blog-world for that long.  All I could stand to do was fall into my bed and sleep when I got home.  Luckily, though, I’ve been to the doctor and gotten some medicine and am on the mend.  So here I am. 🙂

The horrible thing about not writing for two weeks is that I have a million and one things to post about that have happened, but I’m not really sure how and when I will get them all done–because new things keep getting added everyday!  So I guess I’ll start here and see where it takes me.

Last week we were working on division in math, but then added in some practice (an introduction really) with order of operations.  Here’s what our warm-ups looked like:

Monday

Tuesday

I was gone and so don’t have a pic of this one, but they solved the problem that they wrote the story for on Monday, using an efficient strategy.

Wednesday

When we started, the red parentheses were not there, and so many were not sure which part to do first.  This was the introduction to using order of operations.

Thursday

The original problem is what’s written in pink, and the brown is our work after we talked about how to tackle it.

Friday

I love how complicated this one is!  This one tricked many friends, but we’re getting a hang of it now that we’ve done it several days in a row.  This was a brand new concept to most mathematicians in my room.

How did you answer our math warm ups?  What can you tell us about using Order of Operations to solve problems?  Any advice you can give us?  Thanks for leaving your comments to help continue our learning. 🙂