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. 😦

 

They Grow Up So Fast…

Ok, so in order to understand this post, you probably should have already read this one.  Anyhow…today was one of the most exciting days in our classroom up to now.  Really–I was excited for what I knew would come from that mysterious pile of brown-paper-wrapped rectangles–and my kids didn’t disappoint with their reaction to the whole thing.

 

So that answer to that question yesterday was this:

Each kiddo was given their very own, specially wrapped Writer’s Notebook!  I gave them a new pen, too, since we have a “pen only” rule when we write in our notebooks.  And it was the clicky kind of pen, which was extra cool.

 

Now….before they could be gifted their very own, specially wrapped new Writer’s Notebook—which we fondly refer to as our “bears”–they had to agree to a few specific things and sign our class writing pledge (I’ll show you that tomorrow!).  Then the brown-paper-package was theirs (and yes, I was tempted to tie them up with string!).  Just look at their faces:

 

The whole class waited with anticipation as each kiddo individually came up to the easel to promise, then sign the pledge, and were given their goodies.  Then once we all had our presents, they got busy unwrapping:

 

Ok, and so while I know that video is blurry in places (sorry!) and out-of-focus (sorry again!), I KNOW you can see the joy on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices.  And believe me, it’s all real.  They have been waiting for this day for a while (like Devan said today, “It only took 4 weeks!”), knowing that one special day, after they’d learned the right way to use that Writer’s Notebook, they’d have their own.  From the second I walked over to my chair with the pile in my arms, I heard whispers of “today’s the day” and “those are our notebooks!” and lots of suddenly-jumpy 5th graders who were eager–honestly eager–to start the next phase of our writing journey.  AND I LOVE THAT!

 

So now their “cubs” have grown into “bears” (which I heard Anna exclaim after she’d unwrapped her present) and they’re ready to continue their learning journey as capable, FEARLESS fifth grade writers.

Do you have a Writer’s Notebook?  Does it have a special name?  What does it look like? Our homework tonight was to decorate our notebooks.  🙂

An Environment of Numeracy

I just started a book study, led by Mrs. Bell and Mrs. LeSeure, on the book Guided Math by Laney Sammons.  I have only read the first few chapters so far, but am really loving it already.  The book is based on the idea of using the strategies that kiddos already know as readers (visualizing, connecting, questioning, rereading, summarizing, etc) in relation to math; the same things that we do to understand what we read can help us understand math (or any other subject, for that matter!).

So, like I said, we’re just at the beginning, but have learned the overview of the big ideas in Guided Math.  Then we were supposed to choose one that we were going to commit to change or add to our math class as we work through the book together.  My goal was to add to the environment of numeracy in my classroom: to find new and innovative ways to add math to parts of our day outside of “math time.”  The goal is to get kids thinking like mathematicians in all parts of their life at school.

One way to do this, even from the minute they walk into the room in the morning is with warm-ups.  These are quick, math-focused questions that kids answer on a chart for everyone to learn from together.  This was our warm-up from this morning:

It wasn’t a ground-breaking question, nor is it the most deeply I’ll ever ask my kids to think, but it got us focused on math right from the beginning.  I loved it when someone said they had no idea what to write and with just one question from a friend, were able to add “I used math when I had to figure out how long I had until I had to leave to go to my dad’s house” to the chart.  That’s what it’s all about really, supporting each other in our learning.

So what math did you use this weekend?  How do you involve your kids in mathematical thinking outside of “math time?”  What suggestions do you have for math questions we can use for a warm-up?  We’ve love to hear your thinking and add to ours!

Links I Like

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long while now.  Mostly because my kiddos are amazing bloggers now, and many of them have started their own personal blogs at home, inspired by what we’re learning in school.  So here’s a list of blogs (some kid-created, some from teachers and some that are just inspiring to me) that I follow.  Please feel free to check them out, read a bit, and leave a comment or two!

  1. Mrs. Bearden’s Class kidblogs–We’re online!  Check us out. 🙂
  2. www.ixl.com–Great math games organized by grade level
  3. www.hoodamath.com–My kids love this one!  They even do it at home (even when I don’t tell them to!)
  4. Robinson Elementary School–Ever wonder about the amazing place where I work?
  5. Jim and Blue Guy  –Story of a cartoon character and his crazy life (Jared’s personal blog)
  6. Bill the Banana –Follow Bill the Banana on his crazy adventures (Colby’s personal blog)
  7. Hooked on Life —Find knitting patterns to make and love (Abigail’s personal blog)
  8. Cartoon and More–Crochet love (Kathryn’s personal blog)
  9. Calling all Clemson Fans–Biggest clemson fan ever! (Evan’s personal blog)
  10. Make It and Love It–I get so much inspiration here.  I’ve tried so many of these great projects!
  11. Daily Daisy (and Caleb, Too!)–My friend Carrie shares pics of her amazingly cute kids
  12. Weelicious–Have a kid to feed?  Or are you hungry for something wholesome and healthy?  You’ll find something wonderful here.  Believe me–I’ve tried it all!)
  13. Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension–I gotten so many great ideas and most of my blogging inspiration from Mrs. Ripp on her blog
  14. Picky Palate–Found some yummy, yummy stuff here.  Haven’t tried much yet, but have it in my plan soon!
  15. A Math Dictionary–We use this all the time for math help.  So organized and useful.
  16. I Heart Organizing–Just found this one the other day, but am so excited to read it and start organizing!
  17. Open the Door to B4–Our New Zealand friend, Mrs. McKenzie’s, blog in Reefton, NZ

Now as I get this far down my list I realize the thing I hate about making lists like this: I will inevitably leave someone out.  So I’ll save those for the next list.  When I remember the ones I forgot.  🙂

What links do you like?  What websites or blogs to do you follow that you find useful and helpful, either in your personal life or your classroom?  Share them with us!

Window Dressing

We moved our “We’re Connected with the World Map“, remember? Well, in order to have space to do that, we had to move the class chart we had made during our punctuation study.  Our class had the great idea of using our blinds to hand the chart, so we could see it more easily and refer to it during our conversations on the carpet.  That is, indeed, the whole point of the chart anyway, but where I had decided to hang it did not facilitate that happening.  Again–my kids had a great idea that I wish I had done in the first place!  So now our smart thinking about punctuation hangs above our heads while we work and think together in our meeting space–right where it should be!