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.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Building 1/76th of the Great Wall of China

As a teacher this was a wonderful project to watch, the intensity of the student's work, the amazement that turned to tedium in the heat, and then the excitement of finishing, the return of the amazement and the need to show everyone they could find.  

The photographs show our journey of building 1/76th of the Great Wall of China that measured 14,494 centimeters. It started at our classroom, went around the playground, all the way to the second set of soccer bleachers.

 First we had to get blocks, we counted ours, sorted them by color to help with the calculations and set of to ask for more from other teachers.  We got as many as we could.


  The students worked in teams to build
sections of the wall, making it curved just  like the photographs of the actual wall they
had previously observed.  It didn't matter to them the exact shape, as they said, it is a representation not a copy.

As we were working, the third grade had spotted us from their window and came out to ask what we were doing. They quickly asked it they could help, "Of course" we said.

 A small group of students recorded the numbers of cubes and the length we had achieved, lots of addition and multiplication going on here.

We took a couple snack and water breaks, this was exhausting work on an unusually hot day, but the students persevered and at last the final blocks were being laid.

The finished wall - a relieved set of builders!

As soon as they were done a cry of "Hooray" went up and everyone fell to the ground!
Within seconds the next cry was, "Can we show everyone?" 
"I'll go to the Middle School."
"I'll get first and second grade"
"Can we show Cat?" Cat is our math specialist.

And they came, virtually the entire school came to visit our wall over the course of the next thirty minutes. The 4th grade led the visitors along the route, shared their experience and answered questions.

What an exhausting but fun day.  I was absolutely amazed at the incredible length the Great Wall of China must be.  At only 1/76 it was an incredible feat of patience and building for the 4th grade, I am glad we only had a limited number of cubes, we'd still be building now!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Inviting the preschoolers to the outside classroom

It is amazing how fear can influence your thoughts.

The children in the Meadow Room emailed our class to ask if they could come down and visit the outside classroom.  They asked if they could play there and look for animals.  When the 4th grade recieved the email their immediate response was a resounding NO!

Their idea of preschoolers, I think from experience with younger siblings was that they wouldn't be able to listen and would potentially destroy the classroom.  The return email was full of rules and regulations.  They basically wrote that they didn't really want them to go, but if they had to, then it was going to be by the 4th graders rules.

Now, the 4th grade have spent a lot of time building their classroom and are already upset that others have been inspired to build spaces or play close by.  They have incredible ownership of their space and are very territorial about it.

So the children of the Meadow Room came over for their pre-visit briefing and a discussion was held.  The 4th grade were very polite and accommodating but I could see that underneath it all they were worried.

We buddied up and started off across the field.  Immediately the 4th graders took charge, waiting at the road until everyine was ready and crossing together. A sense of excitement as in the air as we went behind the ha ha wall.

It was as if the 4th graders had wanted the preschoolers with them the whole time.  They held theit hands, led them through the classroom, were very friendly and caring towards them, making sure of their safety with all the big branches.  They then discovered a swinging vine and for the next ten minutes or so took turns to swing. It didn't take long for the 4th graders to take turns with the preschoolers and show them how to swing.  I noticed encouragement for those who were a little nervous of the vine.

Each 4th grader stayed aware of their buddy the whole time.  Many gave their buddies piggy backs on the way back up, and only a few let go off hands.  We decided to extend the moment and eat snack together, it was hard to pull away.

This experience was so magical for both grades.  Once the 4th graders were with the preschoolers they were no longer afraid, they had a better understanding of them. They had been given a chance to share something very special to them and they did it with grace.

And after the visit the resounding response was:
 When can we do this again?

Scale modeling the Great Wall of China.

How long is the Great Wall of China?

A simple question you would think, a quick check on the internet and you have your answer.  Not so.
The Great Wall of China is a series of walls built at different times.  When the children were researching in groups they found all sorts of lengths and answers.  It was wonderful to see them automatically check multiple websites for their answers, and indeed to check with each other.

We got all sorts of answers ranging from 5,500 miles to 13, 000 or so miles.  So what to do?
Well, we decided to settle on the Ming section of the wall which is 5,500 miles or 8,850 km. They are into the Ming dynasty right now from their investigation into the Forbidden City.

Can we build a model?

The first thing I did was to stand back, to let the students figure it out, how would they go about building a model?  One group started building with blocks, their main goal to build an aesthetically pleasing wall that looks like the great wall, complete with watch towers.

Another group decided to use a scale - one cm to one mile in length and then one cm to one foot for the height - this of course ran them into problems.

The idea of scale was there for most of the students but I soon realized that the sense of length was proving to be a difficulty.

So we slowed down.

The next day in math we looked at both standard and metric measurements.  Scales mixing the two measuring units were common and I wanted them to stick with one set of units.  We went with metric and decided on a length scale of 1mm = 1km.  They easily worked out that the wall needed to be 8,850 mm long.   Easy!  I then asked how much space does 8,850 mm take up, is it as long as the trailer?

This proved to be a fascinating glimpse into the students ideas of length and measuring units. As they were studying rulers, it was soon obvious that mm were foreign for many of the students and they explored the idea in detail.

They first looked on rulers to try and find the part that was mm.  They all knew that mm were small but were not sure whether they were part of inches or cm.  We started with that, then moved to how many mm in a cm?  Some said 10, some 11.  It all depends on knowing how to read a ruler.  This led to a great discussion. Then some groups looked into how many mm in a ruler. (standard 12 inch ruler) Next was how many in a meter.  Even though we slowed down, it was amazing quickly the children took themselves step by step to solve the problem.

Think of the math involved, converting mm/cm/m using multiplication and division, the powers of ten.
Reading a ruler, investigating the sense of length and size, making comparisons.

It is one thing to say 8,850 mm = 885 cm or 1 meter 85 cm but it another to really understand how the system works and to get the sense of the scale of the measurement units.

I was so impressed with their enthusiasm and the speed of their understanding.
One group took a long tape measure outside to get a sense of the scale.

So, next:
Will this scale work?  What about the wall height?  With 1mm = 1km, getting the height of only 15 meters is going to be tough.  Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Electronics in the classroom - a collaborative approach

Sometimes an classroom issue needs to be given time to resolve itself in a safe and respectful environment. I was watching closely the development of the issue of personal electronics in our classroom. Today I decided to step in and help the class out with this issue.

Our class has recently had an influx of personal electronic devices in the classroom.  It started with two children bringing in their electronics for academic needs.  Soon others started bringing theirs in, primarily to listening to music while they were working.

Now, these are curious 4th graders, so soon others started bringing in devices. They wanted to share the electronics, people wanted to play video games and share music at lunch.  Some students felt that it wasn't fair that some had devices and others not.  The issue got bigger. One student was frustrated that while he was working, others would type on his page, another said that people were trying to guess his password.

After a while, the students began to make decisions about the issue.  Some stopped bringing their own devices in and used their headphones to listen to music on the classroom computers.  Others found spaces to work on individual projects, so they could listen to their music quietly. The issue started getting smaller again.

Still, however I felt that some guidelines needed to be discussed, just so we were all clear and that we could respect those who had and indeed did not have personal electronics.

We had a wonderful discussion.  The children felt safe to voice their opinions and some felt strongly about their stance.  They worked in small groups to develop guidelines, then we had a class discussion.

These were the main ideas:

  • Whatever the guidelines are we must follow them or we would lose our personal electronics for the day.
  • The whole issue was unfair - family rules mean't that some children were not allowed to bring electronics to school, so to be fair no one should have them.
  • Personal electronics should be allowed but with guidelines - no video games
  • Want versus need - a fair idea
  • We have always been fine without personal electronics before - why do we need them now?
  • People should respect both personal and classroom electronics.
  • They should only be for work.
  • Idea - how about music from the CD player in a space in the classroom for quiet work.

Well, this was debated and even though the children understand that they will need to follow a lower school policy when it is made, they came up with, I think a well thought out set of guidelines.

Here they are:

  • Those that need personal electronics can use them only for academic work.
  • Music has to be quiet enough that it is not disturbing others.
  • If headphones are being worn, that is a sign that the person wants to work quietly.
  • Respect all people using electronics - don't hack, or type on their work.
  • Electronic devices need to be treated like our journals.
  • Those that don't follow guidelines have to put their device in their backpack for the rest of the day.

I think that the students really thought this through.  The discussion, although full of opinion stayed respectful and not personal.  I think that allowing the students to work on this issue by themselves, it enabled them to see it from many points of view.  They differed in their opinions but were able to come up with a set of guidelines that they felt were fair for everyone.