Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Scholastic's Interactive WWII Home Life Activity

Let me tell you how absolutely amazing Scholastic is. Here is the link to their WWII American Home Front Home Life interactive activity. The interactive activity lets students click on different items in the living room and kitchen of a home front WWII family home. The item links open to show primary sources including photos, posters, and more, and some play audio files such as Roosevelt's inauguration speech and public service announcements. Each primary source link also includes a brief description of each primary source and its significance to the war effort during WWII.

I had actually decided that Scholastic (and its website) is amazing a long time ago, but I love it even more now! You see, I actually found this activity a week or so ago, and the audio files would not work. I did everything I could to my computer - I cleared my cookies, I deleted history, restarted my computer, downloaded updates, made sure I had the latest versions of everything, downloaded some more, restarted my computer get the drift.

I was so excited about the audio files because that was one kind of WWII resource that I really felt like I was lacking. I know I haven't posted any of the WWII stuff to the website yet, but there is a lot of stuff coming!

Anyway, the audio files still were not working after all of my troubleshooting, so I contacted Scholastic. They sent me an e-mail that let me know that they would be working on the problem. Not much later, they let me know that they had fixed the problem! I was so excited. I went straight to the website to try to listen to those audio files (and I realize you are smirking at my geekiness).

They still wouldn't work for me! Scholastic worked on their website for me for over a week so that those audio files would work! You and I, thanks to Scholastic, now have access to this completely working interactive WWII American Home Front Home Life activity!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

National Geographic Kid's On the Trail of Captain John Smith: A Jamestown Adventure "Game"

I personally e-mailed National Geographic to tell them how much I love this game and that I feel that they should make MORE of them! It is so much more than a game. It is a cartoon-style video of the story of Jamestown that follows the story of John Smith. There are eight mini episodes, and there are mini-games after six of the episodes. Students will learn something through every episode and every game - SO cool. Each mini episode is about 2-3 minutes long, and each mini game is about 1-2 minutes long. I had such a great time with this interactive activity that I decided to share it here before posting it to the website! Although it will be on the student history page soon, here is the link for those of you who would like it a bit sooner:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New History Activities! Early American Settlements and The First Thanksgiving

So, I got around to some of the history links sooner than I thought! I posted eleven new history activities on the student history page in a new section called Early American Settlements and The First Thanksgiving. The subjects of the activities include Pilgrims, Wampanoag Native Americans, the Mayflower, the First Thanksgiving, and more. There are even panoramic views of Plimoth Plantation and the inside of a Wampanoag home! I'm sure you and your students will love every activity!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Free Plimoth Plantation Virtual Field Trips!

I have found so many amazing Alabama and American history resources in the last few days that it is absolutly overwhelmingly ridiculous. I cannot decide exactly how I want to post all of them on the website, because I can't decide if I want to make some of them in a TrackStar, if I should post them on the student page, or if I should post them on the teacher page. There are several resources coming, though!

In the meantime, Scholastic is offering FREE Plimoth Plantation Virtual Field Trips just in time for Thanksgiving 2011! And, yes, it is actually spelled P-l-i-m-o-t-h. The first one is November 2 at 1:00pm ET (2:00pm for all of you who are CT like me!) and is a tour of the Pilgrim Village. The second one is November 9 at 1:00pm ET/ 2:00pm CT and is a tour of the Wampanoag Homesite. The third one is a Webcast Replay on November 16 at 1:00pm ET/ 2:00pm CT. You will even receive a series of e-mails from a Pilgrim girl and a Wampanoag boy with your registration.

These virtual field trips will include daily life of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and interviews of the interpreters (actors) of Plimoth Plantation. I am SO excited to participate in these virtual field trips!

To register click here!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fire Safety Week!

Better Late than Never! Here is the link to the Fire Safety Week games I have posted on The Box of Crayons website:

I enjoyed every single game (Yes, I played them all!). The first link I posted even has old school Sparky cartoons! If I were you, I would sooo be showing them to my class tomorrow...


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Poptropica Mystery Train Island Opens Tomorrow!

Poptropica, my favorite online kids' educational website, is opening its newest island, Mystery Train Island, TOMORROW OCTOBER 7! HOOOOOOORAY!

First of all, if you are an educator or parent and are one of those peoplewho does not encourage your students or kids to play Poptropica, you have not played it yourself. I've played them all! Every island requires critical thinking skills, and there is a lot of educational content that is learned through playing. I, myself, learned a great deal about history from Time Tangled Island and a lot about art from Counterfeit Island and on and on. Play, and encourage your kids to play. They will thank you for it, because they will only know they are playing.

Mystery Train Island proves to be no different. It is set on a train headed to the Chicago World's Fair of 1983, and the player's character must interview many famous people on the train. I played the "sneak preview," which is just a bit of the first part of the game for the island. From this preview I learned that not only does the player learn about the inner workings of a train during the industrial revolution, but also explores the cabins of Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and more! The player's character interviews some of these famous people during the preview, but it is entirely possible that the player's character will get to speak with all of them in the full game!

Plus, there are some awesome costumes to costumize (In Poptropica, you can click on any article of clothing or hairstyle of story characters to wear them with the costumize feature) from this island. I have included a picture of how I've costumized from the preview.

I'm so excited!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Hope and Promise for Alabama History

So, I have been posting quite a lot in the last few days on the website. The more detailed posts have spilled over into this blog so that the website doesn't look like a cluttered activity chaos. Now that I look at the Alabama Course of Study Standards, though, I am realizing just how many activities I don't have for Alabama history. My hope and desire for my students and Alabama history is to hear the whispers of  "YES!" when it is time for Alabama History each day. I want them to be excited about it, and I want it, as with all subjects, to be so much more than a textbook. I may be slower in posting over the next few weeks for two reasons. One is that the resources I do have need to be reformatted, and I need to cite the sources for them before I post them for all of the world to see. The second reason is that I do not have activities for every single standard, but since that is my desire, I am going to try my very hardest to post at least one for each standard. I am hoping to post some math games sometime soon, too, so keep checking back at for more resources in the "Stuff for Teachers" section!


Friday, September 30, 2011

Cherokee Cornmeal Cookies

Here is the Cherokee Cornmeal Cookies Recipe I promised!  Making the cookies was the reward of the winning team from the At-Home Native American Poster Project, but everyone got to eat them! We made these in my old college toaster oven, and they were delicious! I brought some sorghum molasses for the kids to try, too, since it is a local/Southern product. I wait all year for sorghum molasses to be sold at the farmers' market. A lot of the kids dipped their cookies in the molasses or poured the molasses over the cookies pancake style. With this particular class, the rest of the class just watched the eight winning students make the cookies. You may want to give the rest of your students something to work on if you aren't sure if they can handle just watching, though.

I do recommend that you bake one batch before the class makes the cookies. I gave each student one of the cookies I made the night before, and one hot from the toaster oven. I was completely amazed by how good they were, and so were the kids!


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Thursday, September 29, 2011

At-Home Native American Poster Project

Gee, I wish you could see the projects a little better in this photo... and that the students had all completed their projects vertically so they didn't hang in front of each other, but you know what they say about the best laid plans... Anyway, here is another "at-home" Alabama history project. I do let students research at school in the computer lab, but the rest of this project is completed at home! Those of you who are familiar with my projects are probably already familiar with “team points,” but for those of you who are not, here is an explanation of the Requirements Letter and Rubric w/Grade and Team Points:

When I copy the letter, I make the letter the front and the rubric the back so that everyone is sure to have the requirements. Before I give them out, I fill in equal numbers of each tribe in the "assigned" blank at the top of the letter, and then I give out the letters at random. As with everything else, I go over every single part of the letter and rubric with my students.

Since students tend to have limited research skills in 4th grade, I did include some wonderful websites for each of the four major Alabama Native American tribes in the requirements letter. Each of the websites in that letter is more or less a database of sorts in which students can definitely find the information needed to satisfy each of the rubric requirements, and I make sure students know that I know this fact.

I am always torn as a teacher when making requirements for projects. Truth be told, if all students were able to do what I most wanted in a reasonable time-frame, projects would be covered in relevant pictures, photos, and interesting information. The reality is, though, that most students are just starting to learn how to research and assemble a project. There are a lot of students who can give me the awesome projects I want, though, and actually want that challenge. How do I meet the needs of all of my students (and my selfish want for super-incredible-beyond-4th-grade-awesome-work)? My answer is team points.

If you look at the rubric, there is a column for grade points, and there is one for team points. As described in the letter,  grade points are the points that add up to a student's grade in the gradebook for this project. Team points, though, are earned by doing what is required, and extra team points are earned by doing what I would personally like for them to do. Extra team points are earned for extra pictures, interesting facts, creativity, etc.

I group students based on their ability levels (yep, levels - how well they do in history, how well they work in general, how well they research, etc.) to make equitable groups using this Native American Project Groups Sheet (MS Word Version). For this particular project, I do not tell the students who is on whose team. I just keep the group divisions to myself, and after I grade everyone's projects, I fill in each student's team points on the sheet. Then, I add up the points for each group, and the team with the highest score wins a prize which is usually an activity that benefits the entire class.

For this particular project, the prize for the winning team last year was making Cherokee Cornmeal Cookies from scratch for the class which was a huge hit! I promise to post that activity soon.

You will be surprised which students have the most team points and which students have the least. I am always amazed by which students are incredibly motivated to go above and beyond for team points.


Moundville Artifact Cards Match Activity

I made this activity from the information and photos I found on the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian Collection website, and I completely recommend that you check out that website! Everything for the activity is included in this Moundville Artifact Cards Activity.
How to Prepare the Activity:
For each group in your class (4-6 students), make one set of cards:
  1. Print the cards from the Moundville Artifact Cards Activity onto white cardstock.
  2. Laminate the cards, and cut them apart.
  3. I recommend that you mark the back of the cards in some way to distinguish each set. Write an "A" on the back of all of one set, "B" on the next set, etc.
  4. Separate each set into picture cards (the ones with pictures) and catalog cards (the ones with words). Each set of cards will need a baggie to store the picture cards and a baggie to store the catalog cards. I recommend marking the baggies the same way you mark the back of the cards (For example, if you marked the back of the cards in a set with an "A," the two baggies for that set would also be marked with an "A.").

How I Use this Activity:
  1. I give each student a Moundville Museum Artifact Guesses Sheet. I explain to the students that each group will get a set of cards with pictures of real artifacts from Moundville, but the cards will not say what the items in the pictures are. The students have to guess what is in the pictures, and they write their guesses on the "Guess" side of the table on their worksheet. 
  2. I give out the cards, and the students can discuss with other members of their group as they guess if they would like. Depending on your students, this part of the activity could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
  3. For the second part of the activity (which sometimes ends up taking place the next day), I give out the catalog cards, too. The students have to try to match the pictures to the descriptions in the catalog cards. Inevitably, they discover that they have to work as a group for this part, but I have never told them to do so. I let them spread out in the floor if they want. After they think they know which cards match, I ask them to write their new "educated" guesses in the "Museum Guess" column. [If pressed for time, you can ask them to just write the catalog numbers in the top right corners of the catalog cards.]
  4. There is more than one way to do the last part of the lesson.
    1. You can go to the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian Collection website, and demonstrate how to enter a catalog number in the search box to find the picture of that item. Let students find the rest of them on their own in the computer lab, and write the answers in the "What they really were..." table. If you do decide to try this method, you will need this hint - After you search for the catalog number, it will pull up a page full of items. You have to look through the list until you see your catalog number under a picture. If you click on the picture, it gives a lot more information than the catalog card. Sometimes it even tells the story of how the object was found; the items were not always found by archaeologists, you know. :)
    2. Since I am always pressed for history time, I just call out the correct matches. The students write the correct answers to their incorrect guesses in the "What they really were..." table. [I could let them write all of the correct answers in that table, but it seems a bit much doesn't it?]


Alabama Regions Map: At-Home Project

I cannot take credit for this one! The wonderful teachers I used to work with came up with it, but I have tweaked it, and made it my own. I give each student an Alabama Regions Map Sheet that has been copied onto heavy white cardstock and a Letter Explaining the Project and go over both with them. I usually go over the names of the regions with the students (Alabama Regions Map Answer Key) in class, and then give the students a week to complete the rest at home.

If you subscribed to Alabama Studies Weekly this year, you can ask the kids to look up the regions using its first issue. The first issue showed and covered all of the Alabama regions! (...and I think the first issue of every year may do the same, but I am not sure...)


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Map Adventures Lessons

These lessons, Map Adventures, come from the US Geological Survey, and they are actually for younger children. I find that they work very well for 4th grade, too, especially for the beginning of the school year. There are some for older students, also, but I did not like them for 4th grade as well as these.

How I Teach It:
Within the first few days of school, one of my first social studies lessons is a lesson that combines  Lesson 1 & Lesson 2. After that combination lesson, I ask the students to imagine riding in a hot air balloon above any place they would most like to be - real or imaginary. I ask them to write one page about the ride, what they see, etc., and encourage them to be as creative as possible. I give all of them a copy of the hot air balloon coloring page (from lesson 1), and let them color those as they finish their stories. They attach the hot air balloon to the top of their page, and I hang these in the hall :). These stories also serve as their beginning of the year writing samples.

I combine lessons 3-5 the next day. The content is still relevant to 4th grade, but the 4th graders can handle more of those lessons in one sitting than younger kids.

The third day, I combine lessons 6-7. I tell the kids that when I was little, I used to ride with my dad for residential real estate appraisals sometimes. Sometimes he would be asked to do some appraisals in a city that is nearby, but that wasn't super familiar to him. Before GPS, there were real maps - this shocks some students LoL. Since he was driving, I would have to read the map for him! I tell the kids how big the map was (I keep planning to bring one of those maps, but I still haven't!). It was so big that if we opened it outside of the car, we could cover the whole front of the car. Since we couldn't open the whole map in the car and since it would be too difficult to search the whole map for what we needed, I was grateful for the index. I could look up any street on the index part of the map, and it would tell me a certain grid section where I could find it. Somehow this story makes the grid thing more meaningful for the kids. Go figure.

I have actually printed off all 15 of the map sections from Lesson 6 to make the big floor map to use during the lesson. The kids like it even if for no other reason than it is different than our normal school lessons! I actually made it into a center, too, and add it to the basket of geography centers that the students complete later in my map unit. My students fought over who got to do that center last year!

The Map Grid Center
I SO wish I had a picture of this to put here! I put all 15 of the map sections and a penny into a manila envelope and paste the following directions on the outside, "Put all of these pieces back together to make a really big map! After you have put the puzzle together, gently toss the penny onto the map ten times. Write what the penny landed on and in what section it landed even if it just lands on a path or in the grass." I found that it takes a while for students to complete this activity, and a lot of students tend to be interested in it, so I let as many as five students work together for this activity.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Edible Alabama Maps Lesson

I did not come up with this awesome lesson plan. I borrowed parts of it from this ALEX lesson plan and made it my own. My students LOVED this lesson! I do not do the lesson exactly like the ALEX lesson plan. I do a much simpler version.

My Version
I bought the cookie cutter from the site listed on that lesson plan, Kitchen Collectables. If you do not teach Alabama history, I believe that they have all of the other states too! The Alabama cookie cutter is a little bigger than an index card.

To make the cookies, I buy Pillsbury sugar cookie dough, and I knead a good amount of White Lily self-rising flour into it to make a really stiff dough. If the dough is stiff enough for you to move the Alabama-shaped dough from your counter to your cookie sheet, you should be golden. If you omit the flour, the cookies spread out to a non-Alabama looking shape! It took three rolls of sugar cookie dough for my class last year, and I made a few extras (which I suggest because accidents do happen!).

On the Alex Lesson Plan referenced above, there is a link to an Alabama Resources Map pdf, and in that lesson plan it suggests assigning food items for each of the symbols on the map. Last year, I used the following (pictured from top-left to right):
Mini Marshmallows for Cotton
Candy Corns for Corn
Peanuts for Peanuts (check for allergies!)
Yellow Jelly Beans for Chickens
Peach-Colored Skittles for Peaches
Pink Jelly Beans for Pigs
Goldfish Crackers for Fish (and Shrimp)
Emerald Glazed Pecans for Pecans (check for allergies!)
Red Candy-Coated Sunflower Seeds for Strawberries
Chocolate Sprinkles for Timber
Mini-Chocolate Chips for Coal
[not pictured] I would use cut up gummy candies or mini gummies for shrimp next time... 

Where I found all of those ingredients!:
  • I found mini marshmallows, peanuts, candy corn, goldfish crackers, Emerald glazed pecans, chocolate sprinkles, and mini-chocolate chips at Walmart and/or Publix. I know that candy corn can be difficult to find at times, but Publix seems to have it year round. I got the glazed pecans from Emerald because so many kids seem to have an aversion to them (which I do not understand!), but all of my students tried the glazed ones. I recommend getting the smallest size of each of these items; in fact, I got most of these at the snack stand by the check out counter - you know...the itty bitty boxes of goldfish and peanuts, etc.
  • I also found the Skittles at the candy counter by the cash register. There is a pack of Skittles that has a peach colored one in it, I think it is the Crazy Cores kind. I think I had to get two packs of those, and I picked out all of the peach ones. I gave the rest to someone I owed a favor...
  • I found the Yellow Jelly Beans, Pink Jelly Beans, and Red Candy-Coated Sunflower Seeds at Party City. They sell packages of just yellow jelly beans and just pink jelly beans in the baby shower section. The red candy-coated sunflower seeds were in a small tube of multi-colored candy-coated sunflower seeds in the candy section. I just picked out the red ones. I only had to buy one tube. 
What we did in class:
After studying maps for a couple of weeks, this was our culminating activity!
  1. Before class: I sorted all of the food items into sectioned plates for each group (sectioned for allergy purposes), and hid them and everything else!
  2. I gave every student a paper plate, a plastic knife, and a copy of the Alabama Resources Map pdf. All other materials were cleverly hidden :).
  3. I explained that they were going to get to recreate the map on their copy of the Alabama Resources Map pdf on a cookie version of Alabama.
  4. I showed the students a map key I made on the SmartBoard (Edible Map Key) of what each symbol on the paper map would represent on their cookie (such as mini marshmallows for cotton).
  5. I explained that I would also be giving them green frosting (vanilla frosting colored green with food coloring - it took about four cans of vanilla frosting for my class last year) to frost their map for "glue" for their map symbols.
  6. We all discussed and decided on important rules for this project (like not licking the knives, not contaminating the frosting shared by their group members, etc.). 
  7. I let them know that this project would be for a grade. When finished, they should raise their hand and wait for me to grade their cookie. I would be grading based on whether the correct food items were in the correct places of Alabama.  
  8. Only after going over all of that information, did I give them frosting and the food items. My students were seated in groups of 4 or 5, and I just put the frosting and food items in the middle for them to share.  
  9. While the students worked, I took pictures :). As students finished, I graded their work. After I had written the grade for a student in the gradebook, I let him/her eat the his/her cookie!
Materials List:
  • Alabama Cookie Cutter
  • Edible Map Key
  • One Alabama Resources Map pdf per student
  • One paper plate per child
  • One plastic knife per child
  • Bowls (to put frosting in for the groups if  you would like)
  • Sectioned Plates for food items (I used those cute zoo plates)
  • One Alabama Cookie per student
    • 3-4 rolls of Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough
    • White Lily Self-Rising Flour
  • Green Frosting
    • appx. 4 cans Vanilla Frosting
    • Green Food Coloring
  • Mini Marshmallows
  • Candy Corns
  • Peanuts
  • Yellow Jelly Beans
  • Peach-Colored Skittles
  • Pink Jelly Beans
  • Goldfish Crackers
  • Emerald Glazed Pecans for Pecans
  • Red Candy-Coated Sunflower Seeds
  • Chocolate Sprinkles
  • Mini-Chocolate Chips
  • Mini Gummies