Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bird House Measurements

I don't know if you have ever had a classroom full of kids who just didn't seem to get the concept of standard measurement, but I did. The usual activities just didn't seem to click because they were only measuring for the sake of writing an answer. What to do; what to do?

Well, with the assistance of my handy-dandy, super-helpful helper, I came up with the perfect idea. I searched the Internet until I found free, kid-friendly birdhouse plans. We used these plans.

Each student received one pine board that was 5 feet long by 1 inch thick by 6 inches wide. Using a yard stick, each child measured out the 6 sides of the birdhouse. I checked their measurements. If they were wrong, we talked about why and they remeasured. I checked again.

As each child finished his or her measurements successfully, they went outside, to cut their wood. With the assistance of my helper, they used the miter saw to cut their own boards. After cutting, they sanded the pieces.

Cutting the wood took place in our makeshift work station. Careful directions and close observation made this a positive experience. They also used a drill to cut an opening in the front panel. Then they put them together, following the directions.  The birdhouses have a hinge so they can be opened and cleaned out once the birds are gone.

After sanding the birdhouses, they were painted. Not only were they excited to take their birdhouses home, but they also had a better understanding of measurement, including how to use a measurement tool and why exact measurements are important.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I love studying the ocean with my students because there are so many ways you can help them learn about different elements of ocean life. The picture above was the backdrop for a room full of 3-D ocean life created by each individual student. The picture is ocean-themed material I bought at Joann's Fabric. In the course of study, each child chose a different creature, from seahorses to narwhals to sharks. If you look at the next picture, you will see the life more clearly.

Research was completed on the Internet, through books and videos. The 3-D ocean  creature was created at home. They hung in our room, suspended by string, throughout the rest of the unit. It wasn't easy to avoid the ceiling fans, which we need in Arizona, but it worked. Each child shared the information about his sea life with the rest of the class. The kids enjoyed bringing their parents in to point out each child's creature, including their own.

One area of the ocean we studied was the ocean reef. As we studied each animal, we added to a diorama each student was creating. When we finished, each child took home his or her own reef. We used items like sponge curlers, black clip-on rollers, play dough and rotini pasta. The bottom was covered with fine sandpaper. The walls were covered with blue plastic from a table cloth I bought at the Dollar Tree. I also bought bubble wrap at the post office-it was just the right shade of blue. The kids loved it. Assessment happened when I checked their dioramas and ask them questions about the life forms and functions of the reef. If you want more specific directions, I would be glad to write them. Here is one project in progress:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Making masks

Rafe Esquith is one of my favorite authors. While reading his book, Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire, I got a great idea that I couldn't wait to use in my class. Part way through the year, we started a study on Egypt. Because I now knew my students well enough to know I could trust them, we prepared to make face masks. We used craft plaster wrap and made molds of their faces. 

First, we made fancy tables by placing desks together and covering them with plastic tablecloths from the Dollar Tree. Then, we put a headband on their head to hold their hair back. Faces were covered with petroleum jelly; it was even placed on their eyebrows-just to be safe. 

We put pre-cut strips of plaster wrap in water so they could soak. The strips were gently squeezed to remove extra water. They were carefully laid on top of each students face. Students were careful to avoid the eyes, nostrils and mouth. A bridge was made over the noses and over the faces by layering them and smoothing out each layer. 
It was amazing, but it seemed easy as the kids remained laying still for five minutes. Then, the mask was carefully lifted off of their faces. If necessary, extra layers were added to weak areas. Students created the masks, but adults were responsible for removing them. It was really helpful to have a second adult in my classroom of 18 students. In larger classes, more help would be useful. 
Some students were fearful of the process. No one was forced to have a mask made of their face. We found a solution so they could participate. They used a balloon. 

When they were finished, we let them dry for two days. The masks were painted and used to decorate the room. 
Making masks fits into many studies, from Africans to Native Americans. It is easy to do in a multi-grade classroom almost as easily as a  single grade classroom.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Native American Life

Oregon Trail lessons naturally lend themselves to lessons on Native Americans. The trail cut across their land as they moved on. For the Oregon Trail, the students had partners; they made a wagon together. We set up stages across the room with mileage markers. As they completed work, their wagons "moved" across the "country." At the end of the project, we had a 'pioneer days' experience. We spent the afternoon hunting for game, gardening, cooking over the "open fire" with traditional wagon train food. The study of Native Americans led us to experience live on the prairie; we built a tepee. It was approximately 5 feet tall and had a base circumference of approximately 4 feet. The process was both involved and easy. All of the kids, from grades 3 through 8, had a part in the building. 

First, a trip to Lowe's was in order. I picked up ten 8 foot 2 x 4s and sisal rope. We also bought 10 stakes. Then, we began putting it all together.
The kids tied the tops of 3 of the 2x4s together. The structure was put upright. 
We enlisted the help of my wonderful husband. I wanted to avoid having the kids standing on a stool and stretching.
Finally, the basic framework was completed. Then the kids hammered stakes into the ground and tied them to the wood for stability. Sometimes, the wind can blow pretty harshly around here. 

This is the final framework, standing strong and ready for the covering.
We used two large canvas tarps that I bought from Harbor Freight. Inexpensive and perfect for what we needed.

The canvas was stapled in place, starting in the back, halfway around the frame. One piece went to the left and another to the right. We rolled in back at the door and created a door. We could have cut it off, but I didn't want to deal with the mess of frazzled ends. 

The kids created their own designs to decorate the tepee.

Here students refer to their own design. Below is the finished product. 
Finally, the finished product! Please note the ties on the door that were fashioned out of rope. While that was not authentic, the experience of using what was available is right on the money. 
On our pioneer day experience, this was one of the centers. Kids sat on a woven blanket with Native American designs and made yarn dolls. What a fun day that was! What have you done to give a living experience with your students?