Plastic Times: In the Beginning

This year we have been focusing on Book Studies. We have read several great works of literature including Love That Dog and Bridge to Terabithia. Recently, we picked up another Newberry Award winner. After 16 pages most of us were having trouble ‘getting into’ the book. We weren’t even through the first chapter yet – it was 24 pages – when I stopped and asked the students what they thought. At first, they were reluctant to be completely honest. They said things like, ‘it’s okay’ and ‘eh’. So yeah, when I gave them my honest opinion, they opened up a bit more. I have difficulties with reading comprehension, which they all know about, and I simply told them that I was having trouble ‘getting into’ the book. Collectively, they all breathed a sigh of relief and opened up. In the end, we decided to put the book down – at least for now – and move on to something different.

This is where Plastic Times comes in. Last year my class wrote, directed, produced, and acted in their own movie. It was an empowering experience. Within the last year, A Tale Unfolds has expanded their resources and restructured their payment system. Essentially, they have a ‘suggested’ price but will accept what you are willing to pay. Yep, even if you want to pay nothing! Which is brilliant, since their generosity makes me want to pay the suggested price and not try to get a cheaper price. A Tale Unfolds has partnered with several quality organizations, including CNN, to create top quality lessons. Teachers, everything is included!

Anyway, after the book fail, I wanted my students to participate in something meaningful, fun, and most importantly, rigorous. So, I went onto A Tale Unfolds and was immediately drawn to Plastic Times.  This lesson incorporates research, forming opinions on facts, (high quality) writing, and PBL.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-5-26-25-pmFriday we started our new path. The first lesson has students reviewing five different pieces of ‘Evidence’ (all factual) and taking notes. They are investigative reporters learning about the impact of plastic on our environment, animals, and us. Then, they are to form an action plan. When each group received their ‘Evidence’ I don’t think they thought I would stick to the 4-minute timer. I printed one copy of each piece of evidence and so they had a certain amount of time to review and take notes before passing it along. After the first round, they got the message. They then watched a 14-minute video produced by CNN to further their knowledge on the subject. Honestly, I have never seen the students so engaged. They really wanted to get all the information provided and answer all the questions on the guiding worksheet. And that was only day 1! I can’t imagine what the rest of the three weeks will bring, but I’m excited to see where this takes us!

Google My Maps: 13 Colonies

Social Studies is a natural place for My Maps to appear. This year I created a HyperMap. This is based on the HyperDoc method. The students are given a map with information they are to know. This information will also be used to create a final product. Sometimes I have them creating a video on Animoto, other times it might be flyers/pamphlets, or some other creative way the students show what they’ve learned.

For the 13 colonies, I created a HyperMap with a few different layers: 13 Colonies, Current 50 States, and Colonial Regions. The students were to take notes and create a final product: a ‘billboard’ for their state. You can view their final products here. (NOTE: The billboard idea came from Los Virgenes School District via a teacher Nancy Minicozzi@coffeenancy – works with).

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I did NOT create all the outlines. A Google Mapper created a site with some great resources. I downloaded the KML File and then uploaded it to my map (see video).

Using My Maps in this way allowed my students to become more familiar with the territory and they had ownership over their learning. I’m clearly a fan of HyperMaps!

Google My Maps in Math

When one thinks of incorporating Google Maps into their curriculum, the first thought is Social Studies. While that’s quite natural, I have incorporated Maps into most subjects. My latest brainstorm came when I was teaching adding and subtracting fractions. Yup, you read that right, I have students adding and subtracting fractions using Google Maps.

One simple option is to plot a point and place a real-world problem in the description box. Good start, but what if the students used distances to find the sum or difference?

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-6-23-22-pm I created this map of our town and included lines (using the draw line tool) to various locations in our town. This is where it got #eduawesome! The distance (which is displayed once the line is chosen) is shown in decimals! This means they have to convert the decimal to a fraction or mixed number, find the common denominator, and THEN add or subtract! And just to make life a bit more fun, I wasn’t too precise on all my lines. This means they also had to ROUND to the nearest hundredth and in some cases simplify!

For example:

Find the difference between Route A and Route B.
Route A – From school to a local Mobile Home Park (0.753 mi)
Route B – Keefer’s Inn to the high school (0.599 mi)

In this case, Route A was rounded to the nearest hundredth (0.75) while Route B was rounded to the nearest tenth (0.6). Then students had to convert this to a fraction and simplify. Route A = 75/100 = 3/4. Route B = 6/10 = 3/5.

Finally, the students were tasked with finding the difference. There were a lot of steps in there, but it was so much more fun than writing out and solving problems in the workbook. This was more in depth than any workbook I’ve seen, more fun, easy to create, and used a variety of acquired skills. I will be doing more things like this in the future.

Google Maps in Class: State Reports

A few years ago I was looking for something new to do with state reports so I had students do them using Google Maps. Part of my desire to do something different came from frustration. I had been doing state reports near the end of the year. And that means NO ONE really wants to do them and I don’t want to read them – for the sheer fact that the quality isn’t there (end of the year, in 5th grade, last grade in our elementary school…see my point).

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-1-38-06-pmHowever, when I changed the format to maps, the engagement and quality significantly improved. Students entered in the morning ASKING to do the ‘reports’. In the end, it was much more enjoyable for everyone! They still had to do the research and write a quality report.

State Report on Maps Directions.

Here’s a student example:

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NOTE: While ‘Sate Reports’ are a tradition in 5th grade, it is not actually a standard. The standard, in California, states:

5.9 Students know the location of the current 50 states and the names of their capitals

This standard can be met by participating in Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and various other engaging activities. Just because we’ve always done something doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it.

Classroom Success

Today I experienced a moment that made me proud to be a teacher. It was one of those moments that makes you look around and say to yourself, This is what a classroom SHOULD look like. 

This afternoon, after an hour of morning State Testing and an hour of afternoon testing, my students were focusing on finishing their Boston Tea Party Tasks (part of a larger hyperdoc). They needed to discover the events, people, and reasons for the Boston Tea Party.

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Yes, that would be 2 green screens, several groups collaborating, and a whole lot of learning going on! They are posting final videos this week on our website.

State Reports – 21st Century Style

Today – more accurately starting last week – I feel like a genius. I know that will all change by Wednesday. Actually, that feeling started to change this afternoon when someone thought Canada was a state.

State Reports in 5th Grade

We all do them, students for decades have done them. Little has changed. Students get an outline of what is expected, they write, roughly, a 10 page paper on a state, and the teacher must read all reports. I HATE it! I don’t want to read 47 state reports – I teach 2 classes of Social Studies this year. They are painful to read. They are formulaic – partly the fault of the teacher (yes, I know that would be me). And they are BORING!

Time for a change!

So this year, I’m challenging my students. Their reports will be on a Google Map that they create. They will still have to research all the same information, but the presentation will be different. For example, the directions state that they are to find the state capital (of their state) and mark it with a yellow star. Then they are to find other major cities and mark them with an orange star. The students are then free to insert photos of those cities to further enhance their map. Their maps will look something like this:

Below are the complete directions. Like I said, I feel like a genius today, but by Wednesday, it’ll be a different story. And in the end, I will compile all their maps into 1 map using Thinklink. In addition, I even allowed students to work with a partner. Yup, different from the norm!

How did the students react?

They LOVED it. They couldn’t wait to get started. I have a few email me questions already. When was the last time that happened with a written report? They were so excited. I just need make sure they stay focused and write the necessary paragraphs.

Minor issue

It has been a while since we’ve used Maps, and many of the students had questions about some of the specifics. Fortunately for us, the Techie Chicks are in our classroom. And they have a tutorial on how to create a custom map!

The future

I’m sure there will be tweaking along the way. The students will feel free to give me input, and even come up with better ideas. I’ll keep everyone posted. I’m really excited about this.

1 Week Later

Here’s an update.