Friday, January 28, 2011

Fall Haiku

Last fall, I facilitated a seashell investigation in my son's third grade class. Following the investigation, the students wrote Lunes about their shells. With the experience of writing lunes under their belts, they moved on a more complex form of poetry-haiku. Here are samples of their work. (These students chose to have their work published).

The Blowing Leaves
Sliding down the slide
Blowing around the sky
In the fall season
by Julia

In the fall leaves fall down
The leaves flying on the air
In the air they fall.
by Danny

Trapped Leaf
On a windowsill,
Trapped in and old frozen pond,
When fall comes around.
by Cecelia

Leaves on the cold ground
leaves are different colors
In the midnight sky.
by Ella

Floating Leaves
In a tall tall tree
Floating in the blue blue sky
Under the hot sun.
by Hannah

Autumn winds shifting,
Leaves are dancing to the ground
Falling from the trees.
by Beatrice

Running Leaf
On the forest floor
Running from the blowing wind
When I go to play.
by Haley

Swimming in the pond
during a windy autumn
Floating in the air.
by Mason

Leaves get raked in piles.
I see this going on for 
miles and miles and piles.
by Dante

Mister Leaf on a
tree, come down and dance with me
near the radio.
by Jameson

Jumping Leaf
On the grass skipping
Blowing over a black fence
in a blowing breeze.
by Robert

If you try your hand at haiku, why not share it here? I hope you'll also leave a comment for these talented poets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Snow Fun

The weather forecast here in the Northeastern United States is for more snow. Here's another suggestion to get kids outside investigating. Give them a bucket full of Lego's and encourage them to build a sled that will run down the nearest snowbank or hill. Children can be challenged to work together or independently. If you live in a warm climate, try building a hill of sand at the beach or playground.

Here are some challenges you might present:
  1. Who can build the sled that will go the farthest?
  2. Who can build the sled that will go the fastest?
  3. Who can build the biggest sled that will work?
  4. Who can build the smallest sled that will work?

Once they have a chance to test out their sleds, encourage children to make changes to try to improve their designs. (Note to teachers: this addresses the design process in the Science Technology and Engineering standards).

Most people think about building snowmen, making snow angels, or going sledding. Can you suggest other ideas for getting kids outside during snowy weather?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Fun

Today, I'll share the events that happened with my kids this morning as a way of illustrating how you might support your own children and students in their investigations.

My kids had  a snow day today (for my overseas readers, this means no school due to snowfall). When they came down for breakfast, they opened the front door to see exactly how much snow we had. My daughter is fascinated by the fact that snow "sizzles" when she drops little bits of it on top of our woodstove. She and her brother grabbed small handfuls of snow and ran to the woodstove in the livingroom. After a few minutes, both kids returned to inform me that they had put some snow under hot water in the bathroom sink and it "disappeared" (5 year old daughter's term).

I replied, "Wow" and left them to their own devices. That is, until my daughter attempted to bring a huge snowball from the front door, through the dining room and livingroom, to the bathroom. The result: a HUGE pile of snow on the rug. Before she totally panicked, I handed her the dustpan and broom and told her to sweep it up as quickly as possible and put it back outside.

She did. But she looked crestfallen. She assumed her explorations were over.

Instead, I said to both kids, "How could you get the snow from here to there without dropping snow all over the floor?"
My 8 year old son said, "Get a container?" (As if asking permission).
I said, "Go get one!"
And off they went to grab a giant metal bowl.

I had assumed my daughter, who is 5, would love this exploration but that my son, who is 8, would find it boring. He was laughing and having as much fun as her.

Here's what they did with the snow they brought in over multiple trips:
  1. Put it under running warm water.
  2. Put it in a full sink of hot water,
  3. Put it in a sink of cold water.
  4. Dropped some in the toilet.
  5. And finally... dropped huge snowballs into a tub of warm water.
My daughter then asked, "Can I get into the tub?"
My response? "Go ahead!"

So she did.

What were the benefits if this investigation?
  1. They worked together without fighting.
  2. They solved problems.
  3. They developed critical and creative thinking skills.
  4. They learned some science. (Hot water melts snow faster than cold water. Cold water melts snow faster than no water. My daughter shifted her language from "disappeared" to "melted." She learned it from her brother).
  5. Most importantly... they had fun!
What was my role in all of this?
Stay out of the way and let them explore. Redirect only when needed (as in to keep snow off the oriental rugs).

Sometimes adults are quick to tell kids they can't do something. I know I am often guilty of this, especially if I am tired. But, try to stop and think, "WHY not?" Is there any danger? Can anyone get hurt? Can belongings be damaged? If so, could the work be altered slightly (as I did by guiding them to the idea of a container) to prevent problems?

The only real safety concern I faced was the issue of my daughter getting into the tub alone. Solution? I simply stood nearby. The rest of the time I stayed out of it. Oh, and I did take some photos!

A few suggestions for teachers: Preschool teachers could bring big buckets of snow into the classroom for use in the water table. K- 2 teachers might have students take measurements such as how long it takes one cup of snow to melt in 90 degree water vs. 50 degree water. Older students could be asked how they might structure an investigation of their own that involves snow.

For more suggestions on promoting inquiry see this previous post.

When have you let your children or students play in a way that you might not have considered or initially wanted? What were the results? Please share your experiences so that we can learn from each other.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Seaside Dream

On Thursday night, my kids and I went to "meet a local." Janet Costa Bates, who grew up in the next town, read her debut picture book Seaside Dream at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. She also included the process she went through in making the book and a question and answer session at the end. My favorite Indie bookstore, Baker Books, was on hand to sell copies of the book to have signed after the reading.

Seaside Dream explores universal themes:  love between a grandmother and granddaughter, choosing just the right birthday gift, and longing for relatives far away.

I saw smiles of recognition on the faces of the Cape Verdeans in the audience when Janet read about the food that overflows at Cape Verdean celebrations. They laughed heartily when two characters in the book argued over the proper name of a stew they would soon eat.

"That's good kachupa, no?" he said.
"It's MUNchupa," Aunt Celia said of the stew.
"On my island we call it kachupa," insisted Uncle Manny.
"Well," said Aunt Celia. "You come from the wrong island!" Then they both laughed.

After the reading, the woman in front of me asked, "Do you know what Kachupa is?"

I told her I didn't know but understood the joke between the characters. "One island calls it kachupa the other calls it manchupa."

She looked right at me, patted my arm and said, "It's really called KAchupa!" We shared a good laugh.

I'm certain I would have gotten a different answer if I had asked a different person in the audience what it's really called.

As I mentioned in earlier posts (here and here), I believe there are too few children's books featuring people outside of the dominant (white) culture.   Some have disagreed with that idea saying the majority of people in this country are white, so of course most books feature white characters. I believe the issue is far more significant and nuanced than that. I believe every child should be able to see himself or herself in the pages of a book.

Based upon the reaction in the auditorium Thursday night, I know the Cape Verdeans in the room saw themselves in the pages of a book, perhaps for the first time. I know that my caucasian children saw themselves, too, for they also share a close and loving bond with their grandmothers and have relatives far away.

When we got home my son said, "That was fun!"

I hope you'll check out Janet's book. (Full disclosure: I did not meet Janet until that night. I saw the reading advertised and went. I receive no compensation for this post).

A related bit of information: The New Bedford Whaling Museum will open it's permanent Cape Verdean Maritime Exhibit on July 5, 2011.

When was the last time you went to a book signing or "Meet the Author" event?  Local bookstores and libraries frequently host such events. Often the featured authors are "locals,"  so you just might meet a neighbor you didn't know was an author. Check your local newspaper for listings or go to your local bookseller's or library's website.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nature Observations

"In the 20th century, to stop rushing around, to sit quietly on the grass, to switch off the world and come back to the earth, to allow the eye to see a willow, a bush, a cloud, a leaf... I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen."
~ Federick Franck, The Zen of Seeing

In many of my posts, I encourage you to slow down and observe the world around you. I further ask you to encourage children to draw what they observe in addition to the usual writing that happens in schools.

As adults, we are often afraid to draw. How many people have you heard say, "I can't draw a straight line?" I'm sure there are many reasons we internalize these ideas- perhaps drawing wasn't valued in our homes and schools so we never put any time into it. Maybe peers mocked our drawings as a teenager. Whatever the reason, drawing takes a back seat to the "more important" skill of writing. Imagine for a moment, however, that you have a language disability or language is not your first language. How does school feel for you when you have to constantly use words to convey what you know?  What other ways might you want to convey your knowledge? Music, dance, acting, drawing?

Harvard researcher Howard Gardner proposed a theory that there is no one kind of intelligence or IQ, rather multiple kinds of intelligence or knowing. As a young teacher, in response to my teacher training and my own intuition about how kids learn, I always tried to include multiple ways of demonstrating knowledge and competence in my classroom. When I later learned about Multiple Intelligence Theory, I felt re-affirmed and set out to include more modalities in my teaching such as storytelling, movement, and acting. While I think each of these activities has value in the classroom at different times, today I want to focus on drawing in the science classroom.

One key to science investigations is the ability to look closely and notice important details. Whether setting up a traditional experiment using the Scientific Method or a more open-ended investigation about the caterpillars in your garden, the ability to look closely, note details, and record data is important. Certainly, using words and numbers is important, but sitting still, looking closely, and drawing the details forces the observer to really notice specifics.

One of the graduate courses I teach for Lesley University is titled, Science in the Elementary Classroom: Teaching With Evidence. When I teach this course, drawing is always part of the work I ask my students to complete. Not surprisingly, many of these adults are uncomfortable drawing. I encourage them to talk about their discomfort and write about it in their science journals. Not everyone suddenly loves to draw, but nearly all come to see its value. Here's what two students from my last cohort wrote in their journals (quoted with their permission):

(Referencing some field work we did in class) "...I decided to take a walk over the bridge and that is when I noticed a pine tree growing on the side of the stream. Its roots had grown around a rather large rock. I have always been fascinated by the way a tree can seemingly grow out of a boulder. I immediately started writing and sketching. It was peaceful and relaxing and I was noticing things that I had never noticed before. I have walked by similar pine trees hundreds of times but I never observed how smooth the bark looks and feels. I never noticed the small, budding pinecones or the way the pine needles are grouped together in small bunches of five needles each."
                                                                                                  ~Tracy Dean

"I am also learning through this course and my times observing in a 5th grade class how reflection and drawing are important. I am actually starting to feel more comfortable when we are asked to draw. I am finding that in certain situations I want to draw instead of write which was not the case prior to this class. I wonder if this is how many children begin to feel after they overcome their anxiety with drawing."
                                                                                                      ~Tracy Thorne

Tracy Dean described how looking closely and drawing helped her learn things she had previously missed. Tracy Thorne recognized the value of drawing and wanted to draw more often. Her comment suggests that there are times when drawing is more effective than writing. For some, drawing may be easier than writing. Or perhaps a picture can better convey the information. Either way, the opportunity to draw extends the learning.

To learn more, I recommend these books:
This book offers in depth directions and examples.

This little book includes essays by four different experts. Two that are especially appropriate to this post are titled, Writing as a Window into Nature (by Jobnn Tallmadge) and Teaching Nature Journaling and Observation (by Clare Walker Leslie).

And this one is more suited to adults who wish to start a nature journal, though children will be inspired by the art (I used it in my classroom).

How many of you have tried nature drawing with your children or students? How about just for yourself? If you haven't, will you? Why or why not?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seashell Poetry-Lunes

After I taught the seashell lesson in my son's third grade class, his teacher told me she planned to have the students write haiku poems about their shells. Haiku is a challenging form of poetry to write and one that can be too hard for some children due to it's rigid 5-7-5 syllable structure. English Language Learners and children with language disabilities have an especially difficult time. I suggested a similar, yet easier to manage, relative of the haiku-the Lune- as an alternative. His teacher welcomed the suggestion.

A lune is a short poem of 11 words:  3 words in the first line, 5 words in the second line, and 3 words in the third line. Frequently, the third line offers a surprise. For more information about lunes, including examples, I recommend the book Poetry Everywhere by Jack Collum and Sheryl Noethe. I have the first edition. Here's the second:

If you wish to explore other poetic forms with your children or students, this book is an excellent resource.

Here are some examples taken from my son's third grade class. Only students who wished to have their poems published are included. Not all of the poems stick to the 3-5-3 structure (some did 5-3-5) but they have a similar feel. All students drew their shells, as well, but I think these poems stand alone well.

My shell is
orange bumpy and smooth at
 the same time.
by Kayla

My shell is very curly
round and short
and colors of the rainbow.
by Nathan

My shell looks
like a breaking wave crashing
onto the shore.
by Dante

A happy shell
swimming in the blue sea
on its back.
by Hannah

A conch is a conch
brown to its
point, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy you get!
by Haley

Happy scallops live in shells
sad scallops don't
Sad scallops get eaten. Yum!
by Ben

This oval shaped, spikey shell
has brown bumps
with a peach colored inside.
by Beatrice

My shell is at the
sunny beach with
all the shells and creatures.
by Cole F.

One black dot
in the middle, bumpy brown
around every edge.
by Cecilia

My shell has
wings on its side to
help it swim.
by Ella

My shell looks very bumpy
and also looks
like the beautiful setting sun.
by Marissa

My shell has two parts,
lives in the
ocean and opens and shuts.
by Julia

And here's one that is best read along with the art:

Will you give Lunes a try? Since they're such a short form, I hope you'll share examples in the comments.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Seashell Investigation

The various illnesses my family and I experienced in December, coupled with the holidays, made posting impossible for me. I'm sorry for my absence. Today I'm back and intend to post regularly again.

Earlier this school year, my son's field trip to The Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies was postponed due to bad weather. In lieu of the trip, I offered to visit his class and teach a lesson on seashells. Lucky for me, his teacher welcomed the idea. I arrived that morning with a milk crate full of related books and posters and a bin full of seashells I've collected over the years for use in my own teaching.

As frigid winter months drive many people in the north indoors, I thought I'd share this activity as a way to help you and your kids stay connected to nature. Of course, I encourage you to get yourself and your kids outside for at least a few minutes every day, but sometimes that just isn't possible.

What follows is an overview of what we did. It works best if you have 3-5 children working together, but even one child working alone or with you can have fun and benefit from this task.
Materials needed:
  • An assortment of seashells, ideally ones that are local to you. (FYI... if you live inland or don't have seashells, many other natural items can be substituted such as rocks, leaves, nuts, pine cones, seeds, etc. I'd suggest that whatever you choose, select items that come from the same ecosystem).
  • Magnifying Glass (hand lens)
  • blank paper
  • pencil and colored pencils
  1. Place a small assortment of seashells (or rocks or leaves etc.) on a table in front of the children. Give them time to examine and talk about the shells.
  2. Ask them to sort the shells however they choose. With younger children, you might want to brainstorm ways they could be sorted (size, shape, color, texture, kind/species, etc). As they work, encourage them to explain their reasoning to each other, but don't interject your ideas. Let them run the show. (For more on this, see my post titled  "Top Ten Ways to Promote Science Inquiry.")
  3. For an added challenge, you can ask them to sort however they choose but not tell you the rule. Then you have to try to figure it out.  This is fun but will also point out flaws in their thinking. For example, some children will want to sort by size. They'll make a piles for "big" and "small" without specifying how big or how small. When this happens, I choose the biggest shell in the "small" pile (Or the smallest in the "big" pile) and ask why it isn't in the other group. I might say, "I think this shell is big. Why do you think it is small? How could you help me understand exactly how you sorted?"
  4. Once their interest in sorting starts to wane (frequently after 10-20 minutes depending upon their ages), ask each child to choose one shell (or rock or leaf) to examine closely. They might choose the one they like best or the ones they have questions about. 
  5. Ask each child to look really closely at his/her shell and draw it in as much detail as possible using pencils and/or colored pencils. Ask them to also describe it using words. (Note: young students will benefit from you providing a paper clearly set-up for observation with a blank section on which to draw and lines on which to write. Kids grades 4 and up can likely set the paper up on their own). Encourage kids to do whatever they want first- draw or write.
  6. After they've observed with their naked eyes for a few minutes, provide the magnifying glasses. This will extend their observations even more. (Again, see Top Ten Ways to Promote Science Inquiry for more information).
  7. To extend the childrens' language skills, encourage them to use metaphors or similes to compare their shells or parts of their shells to other things. To get them started, you might say, "My shell looks like a ___________. (Similes use the words "like" or "as." Metaphors don't).
  8. Check in with kids and offer comments as they work. Try to avoid phrases like "Good Job." Instead focus on noting specific things they drew or wrote. For example, "I see you really noticed how those lines meet at one point on the shell." Or, "I never thought of describing a shell as looking like a breaking wave before." Even if the drawings are not truly representational of the shell before them, there are positive things to say. For example, "You included all of the different colors on your shell."
  9. Once the kids have completed their descriptions and drawings, ask them to write down any questions they have. "What are you wondering about?" (Writing and drawing will take from perhaps 15 to 30 minutes for most kids. Really little ones, like pre-K or K, may be done in as little as 5 or 10 minutes). Share the questions.
  10. Read aloud a book, or short section of a book, about shells. Encourage kids to look for answers to their questions as you read. My all time favorite book is A First Look at Seashells by Millicent Selsem. Unfortunately, it's out of print, but I get it from my library. It's worth locating.
  11. Encourage the children to record answers to their questions that are in the book. Any unanswered questions can lead to further investigations.
(Note for Massachusetts teachers and homeschoolers: This investigation addresses several Life Science standards. Grades Prek-2; standard 2 and 4. Grades 3-5: standard 1. If you take the lessons a step further you may also address adaptations, life cycles, or characteristics of living things. If different items are used such as rocks or fossils, other earth science standards may be addressed).
Have you tried an investigation such as this? Can you suggest additional items that might be used for sorting?

Teachers and homeschoolers: Is having the state standards cited right in the post helpful to you? Should I continue to do this?