Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Personalized Nonfiction Reading Unit

I'm not going to lie...I absolutely LOVE teaching nonfiction to kiddos! And the best part is that THEY love it, too! Kids are in pure discovery mode and can't wait to share "Ah-Ha" facts with anyone and everyone nearby. I love watching them read and seeing their faces when they learn something new that they think is really cool. So, needless to say, this unit has always been one of my favorites.

One thing we have struggled with has been how to make it individualized for our students. The thing about this unit, is most kids do not have much background knowledge on text structures or nonfiction types. They know they like nonfiction. They know "text features" (Click here for our Text Feature Scavenger Hunt freebie that we used as review). But if you ask them to identify or use a cause and effect text structure, and they look at you like you're speaking alien. Due to this, all of our mini-lessons for this unit were whole group. We really tried to personalize the unit for our individual kids during their independent work time.

So, we teach our mini-lessons and get kids excited about text structures (wow...who knew?), but finding books that have these text structures can often be a challenge, too. By collaborating with our amazing ELL and SPED staff, we printed multiple articles from the Reading A to Z library. By whiting out the identifiable  labels at the top, we were able to provide our kids with multiple articles to choose from at their level to practice with. Another fantastic resource that we often turn to is the Stephanie Harvey Tool Kit! (click picture below to be taken to her website).
These awesome books come with high-interest, leveled articles! The CD's are great to print clear copies from, too. Not all match specific text structures, but many do, and really helped to provide multiple options for kids to choose from.

Once kids had their chosen articles/books that interested them, we gave them multiple graphic organizers to help them organize their understanding of the different text structures. We used the same graphic organizers to model with during our lessons. This was really helpful, because when the students downloaded the Google Docs that they needed, they had our class examples on the front page as a reference model. We used these formatively to help support our strategy group work.
As we dug deep into nonfiction for over a month, we wanted a culminating project that we could also tie in with our nonfiction writing standards. We wanted the kids to dig deeper into a topic that interested them, but at the same time, prove they had a strong understanding of the text structures. What we developed was a "Magazine Article." It required that they choose and research a topic, complete "Boxes and Bullets" as note-taking, cite their resources, and include the many different tools/structures that we explored throughout our unit. Feel free to click the image below to get your own copy. You will need to "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of the document first. Then you can edit your own version as you see fit.
As they researched, we coached them on their note-taking, sources, we talked about reliable sources, and provided them with additional graphic organizers to help with their own text structure planning. They self-edited and peer edited. Then, it was time to start the final product!

They were most excited about trying out Google Slides in a new and unique way. We chose Slides as our format for the same reasons so many bloggers utilize Powerpoint. It provides the user with more versatility than a traditional Doc. They can make multiple text boxes, layer them, change backgrounds, and more! They came up with some incredibly creative final articles! Most importantly, they were totally engaged and VERY proud of the final "editions." Below is my "exemplar" that I built with them to teach them the tools. I also researched Giraffes when I modeled the note-taking once we introduced the topic.

Here are a few kid examples, too! These are only the first pages of two of them. Many were 3 pages long (and for a good reason ;)
They never cease to amaze us with their creativity, excitement for learning, and the way they make every day fun! We love our jobs!

Do you have any creative projects or ways of working through nonfiction? We'd love to learn with you!

Happy Teaching!


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Collaboration Across Levels: Bigs and Littles Learning Together!

I recently posted about finalizing our Defined STEM sound project. As if that wasn't enough of a final culminating activity, Angela and I collaborated with the infamous Michael Mohammad and his incredible AP Physics students for a fun filled morning of learning! We had been talking about bringing our students together for quite some time, and after some impromptu conversations after the Convening conference, we were finally able to make it happen! Mike's students had been learning about sound...our students had been learning about sound...what an amazing opportunity for both sets of students to share their knowledge with a real audience! 

The Thursday before the holiday break, Mike brought over about 50 AP Physics students from Brookfield Central High School. His students were divided into five groups and shared their knowledge with our ENTIRE grade level. All of our 4th graders spent the morning rotating through different stations. The groups focused on the following concepts: 
  1. Sound waves and tuning forks
  2. Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
  3. Sound Uncovered using the app for iPads
  4. Using Makey Makeys and Little Bits to create circuits that make music
  5. Resonance
When I look at that list, it's hard for me to believe that our 4th graders would even be able to comprehend some of these difficult concepts. Mike's students blew us out of the water! They brought the information to life and, through the use of PearDeck, made presentations interactive and highly engaging! From the Sound Uncovered app to the Doppler Rocket, dancing tuning forks to Star Wars sounds...these high schoolers used a wide range of technology tools that made for a morning of fun. Learning about resonance with Little Bits and creating animals sounds with Makey Makeys, our kids (and teachers) had a blast! To learn more about the high school content, check out Mike's blog post about our morning together! 

All in all, the morning of collaboration was incredible! Not only did the high school students share their knowledge of sound with our kiddos, our 4th graders had the opportunity to present their sound instruments AND their iMovies to a real audience! The learning was engaging and authentic! 

A HUGE thank you to Mike and his students! You WOWED us and can't wait for our next opportunity to collaborate with you! Go-Carts are next...let's do this! 

~ Kate

We Are All Super Stars!!

So, I'm a little delayed in posting this. December was a whirlwind of activity, and although I had great intentions of filling my break with blog posts and planning, instead I chose to spend my days with warm cups of coffee and snuggles.

With that said, Angela and I are excited to announce that just before the winter break our students finished their first collaborative STEM project using Defined STEM. I introduced this project in a previous blog post, and wanted to share an update! Our students worked so hard over the last 2 weeks! All of the groups WOWED us with their creativity, collaboration, and ability to come to consensus.

After our students planned their conceptual models and built the physical models of each instrument, they were ready to advertise for the concert AND perform! They worked together to create a billboard and a performance, that they then recorded and edited. Once all recordings were finished, we uploaded the videos to iMovie and the groups edited their movies and finalized them for our class playlist. All members of the group had to play an active role in the video- they could sing, play an instrument, record, and/or edit the movie. Watching the smiles on their faces during their final performances was the best part of the entire project. It made up for duct tape stuck to the couches, cardboard scraps found in EVERY nook and cranny of the room, and junk, I mean supplies, strewn from one end of our space to another...we are still finding rubber bands and string :)

Our classroom was filled with enthusiasm and excitement (and a whole lot of tape!) whenever they looked at the journey and realized it was science time! With our collaboration day with Michael Mohammad looming, we were cutting it close, but all of the groups stuck to the timeline and finished on time. The students of TEAM Togetherness were thrilled to share their instruments AND their finished videos with their high school mentors. It pays to have a real audience!

We are SO proud of these kids and are already knee deep in the planning of our next STEM project! Hopefully it won't take me so long to post :)

~ Kate