Monday, February 2, 2015

Martin Luther King Day of Service

What a fantastic day at Abner Clay Park and Monroe Park!
Our class is so involved in the horridness of litter and ridding the world of it that we decided to stick with this idea to make Richmond a better place for children, and for all.
We were looking for another place to pick up trash and Anna suggested Abner Clay Park. One of the class groups had been interested in city playgrounds so this was a great choice. The class had remade their trash picker uppers and were ready to test them out.  So with backpacks full of supplies: gloves, spare gloves, sketchbooks and pencils, and re-designed trash picker uppers in hand we set off for Clay Abner Park.
Once there the children got right to work, they worked non-stop for over one hour, steadfastly ridding the park of litter.
They were amazed at how much litter there was. They commented on the signs that were there telling park goers not to smoke or drink alcohol, that glass was not allowed. They were appalled as they spotted hundreds of cigarette butts, and beer bottles and bottle caps.
They even found an old cell phone and a watch!
Even the parents got involved! Tally's dustpan and brush was invaluable for sweeping up the litter! We weighed each bag as it was filled and ended up picking up about 40lbs of litter which we depositied in the trash cans right there in the park.
The children wondered why there was so much litter about as there were alot of trash cans!
We ended the day at Monroe Park, meeting the rest of lower school and the preschool.
Even the weather co-operated - such a successful day!REL_1170

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Thanking our trash collectors

Children love to do meaningful work. I always find that when they feel their work is useful or relevant the quality is always amazing.  As part of our litter project, the children were brainstorming ways of getting in touch with the trash collectors. We had lots of ideas. Anna sent an email with their questions to the city, but we hadn't yet heard back and the children really wanted to do something for them. They have been so appalled with litter that they wanted to let the trash collectors know that they were appreciated. So, Anna, our atelierista, who is always the problem solver, gave them a provocation - how about a thank you card. They loved this idea and brainstormed how they could get them to the trash collectors. Leaving a note on the trash can was the consensus. Anna again took their idea a step further,  to make three dimensional cards that would stand out when placed on a trash can. The children had been worried that the cards may be mistaken for trash.
So they created cards in the studio.  As you can see the cards were beautiful.
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It was coming up to winter break so I asked the children to send a picture or report back the response to their kindness.  It was so wonderful to hear what had happened.
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"She was delirously happy as she got a wave, a "Thankyou" shout out, and honking from the driver."
"They honked the horn in thanks"
These reponses were so special to the children and their seemingly small thing became huge to them. The work was meaningful, it gave them joy and sent joy to some important people in their neighborhood, They so enjoyed the opportunity to reach out and make someone's day.
They are now ready to take their litter campaign global!

Student Documentation

Sometimes it is just about putting the right tools in their hands.
This year I wanted to focus on having the children start to document their own work. We now have three ipads as well as a classroom camera. I have noticed such a huge change in the way the children have been using the tools. I made them available to them but did not prompt them to use them, prefering instead to just observe and see what they did.
At first the children were very interested in taking photos with the iPads. Not only do they take pictures but without a suggestion from me are deleting ones that are blurry or ones they don't like. We can all learn a lesson from that move! They were mostly using them to capture light images in science at first. They then experimented with video, again mostly in science, recording phenomena that they noticed or had questions about.
Recently, this has changed. The class just compeleted individual or small group projects investigating a science concept of their own interest. Two groups decided to share their work through the creation of a video. They spent time figuring out how to keep the camera still, how to get the best shots and how to keep the audience interested. When shared, the class loved them.
During this sharing two other children decided, on their own to document all the presentations. Holding the camera still is still an issue but they are thinking hard about lighting, positioning and what to capture. They asked permission of their classmates to document before starting to film.
I am seeing all these things that I had intended to teach, yet they are already beyond the basics. They easily use the equipment as tools, with respect to both their classmates and the machines.
This week we re-embarked on our project about the trash in Richmond. We took a field trip off campus armed with about 4 cameras and two iPads. One student filmed us while we walked, capturing snippets of talking as well as the walk and the litter itself.  Lots of pictures were taken. When we returned the class, the children uploaded their pictures, chose and edited them to their satisfaction. Discovering by themselves how to crop and style the pictures.
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During discussions I usually am the notetaker. As Susan and Anna had been with us on the walk, Anna led, and Susan documented the discussion. One of the students had an ipad with them and was also taking notes on the discussion. Thus encouraged, another student started writing the main points of the discussion on the board. It is still up there for us all to refer to.
I am so amazed at how the simple addtion of new, yet simple tools have so encourgaged the children to take charge in documenting their own learning.

Just returning to blogger with a new class and a new set of posts.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Discovering Chinese Art at VMFA

Today we visited VMFA.

I had decided to finish up our China study with a visit to the Chinese Galleries.
The children had already experienced the gallery online and were excited to see the pieces that had been expanding their ideas and influencing their own artwork.

When we got to the gallery, instead of starting with a talk I stood back and let the children wander in, to  discover the treasures by themselves. As we had previously done so much work on the dynasties, the art forms of watercolor and porcelain the children needed no introduction.  They immediately found familiar pieces and shared their excitement.

"Look, Ming!" I hear
Then, "Qing too".
"Melanie, this piece is from the 10th century - that's really old!"
"Qing, Qing, Qing, Ming, Ming, I wonder if there is anything from the Song Dynasty"
"Or Tan"
"I found the bat bowl, can I draw it?"

Leaving the visit to be a culmination had paid off.  The children were able to take their knowledge and use it to observe.  They had enough content to hang new ideas on, to make connections.

We then gathered together, and after a quick discussion on what they had seen the children pulled out pencils and paper and began to sketch.  They sketched with such great detail and intensity.  Some as close to the glass as they were allowed, some seated on the floor.  All of them focused, all of them interested. I heard whispers as they shared their finds and their sketches.

"Can I take a picture, this is my favorite" said one of the yellow glass bowl.

"I love the cat, I don't know why but I just love it."

"This brush I like a giant's brush."

" See which piece I drew Melanie, the ram is awesome, will I have time to finish it?"

I noticed that not only sketches were being recorded, but information on the piece.  How it was made, when it was made, the dynasty in which it was created.

Sometimes we are too quick to load up on information.  By standing back, the children gathered their own information, quiet discussions went on in small groups as the children noticed similarities or made connections.   They made connections to Minds in Motion and to our study of rocks. They noticed symbolism, brush strokes and poetry.

Our next stop was the ancient china gallery.

"Melanie, 1st century BC"

"I have older - 3rd century BC".

"Which is older, 1st or 3rd century BC?"  (A great question!)

" I have it - 2500BC, that is 4600 years old and it is still here!" It is made of clay. I win."

"Zhou dynasty - yes!"

The interest in the ancient galleries was more to do with age than aesthetics.  The children were awed by the age of the pieces.  One said "But they all look so new, even though they are so old."

So why a great visit?

We came after having a lot of information.

The art styles were familiar, many of the children had made pots, experimented with watercolor or tried calligraphy.

The children had seen many of the pieces online so had something to look for.

But I do think that by standing back, by allowing discovery, kept a mystery to the pieces, a desire to look closer to find out more.The children naturally shared and learned from each other, they wanted to show me pieces, to share what they had found out, to share their awe.

Sometimes, just let the children do the talking, they know what they want to discover.

So, as we left I asked for words that came to mind,




"Ancient"   were just a few.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to say thank you to the Minds in Motion teachers.

All year the children in the 4th and 5th grade have been working with the Richmond Ballet in Minds in Motion.

At the beginning of the year, some of the children were a little worried about the concept of dance, or were finding it difficult or uncomfortable. It didn't take long for the enthusiasm to catch on, and soon all the students had learned three quite complicated dances. The few weeks before the performance all the dancers were practicing vigorously, even during recess.

The performance was wonderful and the students although nervous, performed so beautifully.

The end of our second performance cries of:

 "I am so sad".
"It is over, we'll never do this ever again."
"What will we do on Tuesdays?"

Cheers went up as they were told that their would be one more lesson and the children made thank you cards and wrote notes.

Then ;

"Can we make up a Thank You Dance for Paul and Rachel?"

Of course, use the language of dance!!

So Tuesday morning this is what happened:

Two children started to choreographed a dance utilising steps for a left and right side.
A third child added a middle row with different steps.
They taught two fifth grade students and the rest of the 4th grade - everyone wanted to join in.
The fifth grade taught the rest of their grade,
We practised at recess
We danced our thank you for Paul and Rachel.

On their own, the students drew diagrams on the board of where everyone's starting place was.
Steps were written on the board for everyone and then transferred to paper to have on hand "just in case."
They counted, added words and adapted the dance to fit a rhythm that the whole group could understand.
They helped teach each other the steps, those getting it quickly helping those having more difficulties.
They worked in small teams according to starting position then came together as a whole group.
They did all this in about an hour!!

They worked together truly as a group, helping each other and expecting the best from themselves.

Paul and Rachel were wowed!!

Thank you dancers!

Math isn't so tough if you have workable strategies.

I find that often when teaching a new strategy in math, some of the students feel that the strategy is not needed as they have other ways to solve the problem or they can calculate it mentally.  So, when will students have to use a strategy?

When the question is really difficult!!

So, I was in England and visited some experimental neolithic structures that archeologists are building for the new visitors center at Stonehenge.  I was showing the children the pictures and we saw that many of the building styles were similar to the ones we had built.  We then talked about the way all native materials were used and also native tools of the time.

Then came the provocation:

It took 2 hours and 48 minutes and 11, 477 blows of a flint axe to chop down a 30cm diameter tree.  A number of volunteers took two minute turns to chop.  So, how many axe blows per turn?

This immediately led to discussion of we can't possibly know, some people would chop faster than others, some would be stronger and be able to make deeper cuts.  As a class we came up with finding the average (arithmetic mean) axe blows per turn.

So, how do we do that?

We first figured out that 2 hours and 48 minutes divided into 2 minute turns would be 84.

First what is the equation?    11,477 / 84 =   ?

Well, we haven't tackled this type of problem in 4th grade, how could we possibly find out the answer - was it too difficult?

No - not with patience and strategy.

So what strategies do we have that we could use?

Counting with pop cubes
Landmark numbers
Building up
Coming down

How did they do it?

Using landmark numbers and then adding on.
Also showing an understanding that even though the answer isn't exact, it cannot be a fraction because of course you cannot have "half a blow!"

 Again, starting with 84 x 100.  An estimate to get close.

This group started very high, then used halving to get to a closer estimate.

None of the groups had ever tackled a problem like this, but with the aid of learned strategies and a sense of adventure, even the seemingly impossible was very much within reach.