Friday, January 20, 2012

Books I Want...Well, Only A Few of Them

Ok, so there are a LOT of books that I want, but here are a few of the ones that pertain to Alabama history that I want:
Finding Lincoln
Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina
This book is set in Alabama in the 1950's. Louis needs to use the library to do a report on Abraham Lincoln, but the library is for whites only.

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge
This book is about the children of the Civil Rights Movement, and it features black and white photos documenting the Civil Rights Movement with special attention paid to children. The book includes the Selma to Montgomery March.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Colvette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
This book is about a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama who did exactly what Rosa Parks did....nine months earlier. She not only was not celebrated, she was shunned by her peers. This book should give a closer look into the complexities of the Civil Rights Movement. I told my students every year that to an extent Rosa Parks just got lucky. There were more people than her refusing to give up their seats. This book proves the point.

*NOTE: I have not read any of these books yet, and I have reason to believe that part of one of these books may not be appropriate for  4th graders. I want the books just the same, though. :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

History From Hoover to Roosevelt & Letters to Mrs. Roosevelt from Children Two-Part Activity

For whatever reason, The Great Depression is a time period that is near and dear to my heart. My grandparents lived through The Great Depression. They had their first children during that time, and one of their very first babies almost starved to death. Condensed milk came to his rescue. It is the time period in which my mom's favorite show, The Waltons, is set. It is the time in which a handicapped man became the symbol of strength, determination, and courage. My dad also contracted polio (many years later), but he exhibits some of the same characteristics for which Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is remembered. Physically, he walks with a limp. Character-wise, he always presses on. He never says can't.

Those of us who know what that time period was like from the stories of our grandparents, through books, through movies, through documentaries, through blog posts, etc. have a respect for those people. When economic times are tough, we think of that time period. We think, "They made it through; we can, too." Students need to know about that time period. They need to know the desperateness of the situations of the people of that time. They need to know that kids of the Great Depression longed to be able to eat at all each day, to own any article of clothing at all, etc. They need to know that this time period existed so that they can appreciate today... because it isn't yesterday.

This activity is a two-part activity. The first is a PowerPoint presentation that gives the students a picture of history at that time from the time Hoover was in office to the time Roosevelt was in office. The PowerPoint is only supposed to give the students enough background knowledge to help them understand the letters they are about to read. The second part consists of reading letters from children to Mrs. Roosevelt.

These letters are copies of actual letters to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt from children during the Great Depression. We teachers call this a primary source. Something magical happens when a student gets to hold a primary source. As they (the students) so eloquently put it, "It makes history less boring." The letters to Mrs. Roosevelt range from children asking for used underwear to children asking for bikes and dolls. We know that the requests in these particular letters were never granted. Mrs. Roosevelt was very charitable and she answered a lot of requests, but she was only one person. She couldn't answer them all by herself.

It is a thing of beauty to hear 4th graders saddened and/or angered by the fact that a child didn't have clothes and that the President's wife didn't grant clothes to that child. I do not facilitate these conversations. I give the students questions to answer for each letter, and they are allowed to discuss within their groups. I just walk around and listen. I rarely have to say a word. Students help each other understand what they do not understand. Students talk through how they feel as they answer the questions. I don't have to tell them to; they just do.

The questions sheet used to include a question that said, "Do you think the writer's request should be granted? Why or why not?" for each and every letter. The students inevitably said, "Yes" to every letter. Now, after the students have read all of the letters that they have had time to read (usually about four each), I ask them, "Pretend that you are only able to give one of these kids what they asked for. Of the letters you read, which one would you choose and why?" I always look forward to reading these responses more than any of the others.

Anyway, enough of my babbling. Here is the activity:
  1. Show From Hoover to Roosevelt Powerpoint. The last slides will explain what children will do during the Letters to Mrs. Roosevelt activity.
  2. Randomly give out the Letters to Mrs. Roosevelt letters to students; Give out Letter Questions Sheet (I usually run a copy of this on the front and back so that students have four sets of the questions which is enough for them to respond to four letters).
  3. Explain your expectations for the activity including how much time the students will have to complete the activity (I usually give two history class times for the combination of the PowerPoint and letters activity). You may even want to respond to a letter on the Letter Questions Sheet in front of the class as a model. Depending on your comfort level and your students, you may allow students to complete the activity independently or in groups. If your students can handle working in groups, I recommend it. The students learn a lot from each other. I usually leave extra letters at the front of the room so that students can get a new letter as they finish reading and responding to a letter.  
  4. About twenty minutes before time is up, ask students to answer the following question on another piece of paper: "Pretend that you are only able to give one of these kids what they asked for. Of the letters you read, which one would you choose and why?"
I will post how I make the letters seem more authentic and old in my next post.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Movie for WWI: Sergeant York

Ok, so Sergeant York is about a WWI hero from Tennessee, not Alabama. This is such a good movie about WWI, though. Since it was made in the early era of movies, there are war scenes, but there is no blood and no gore. The movie is in black and white, and when I tell students that it is in black and white, they all make that disappointed sound. I assure them, though, that this movie and To Kill A Mockingbird are two movies that are so good, that I do not mind that they are in black and white. (It has Gary Cooper in it for crying out loud! I always wanted to know what he was like because Lucy, of I Love Lucy, so often described certain men as a "Gary Cooperish" type.) Usually by the time the students see Sergeant York in a shooting contest, they are hooked. I have never been able to show it all in one afternoon, and both years the kids have just about driven me crazy asking when we are going to see the rest of the movie.

Watch it before you show it to the kids. They will ask questions as the movie goes along. Answer them as they ask even if you have to pause the movie every once in a while. From this movie: they will gain an understanding of what life was like in the rural South back in this time period, what boot camp and training was like for these soldiers, and what war was like with all of the new technology of the time. Possibly most importantly, they also get to experience the story of a truly humble war hero whose intelligence was gained in the backwoods of the South and whose integrity ran so deep that it influenced a nation (They even made a movie about him! :) ). You may want to mention that if any of them take a trip to the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, they will see a sign on the interstate for the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center. I have had so many students come back and tell me that they saw his sign.

I do not do any written response on this movie. Sometimes we teachers can kill a good thing. I find that there are so many good questions and discussion throughout and after the movie, that there is no need to beat it to death with anything else. I do, however, do a project in which the students may choose to research the technology of WWI as one of their research topics. I will try to post that project soon.

If anyone ever finds that this movie has been restored to a color version, please let me know! Let me know if you use this movie in your class, and the impact it had on your students (and you!), too.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Archaeology Adventure Archaeological Dig Activity Kit

Three years ago, I started teaching 4th grade. I was determined to make as much of my curriculum fun as I could. So anytime anything wasn't fun, I noticed. I'm sad to say that of all the subjects I taught that year, Alabama history was fun least often. I had not had Alabama history since I had been a 4th grade student myself. I remembered some things about Alabama history from back then (believe it or not), and some subjects in Alabama history were really just American history with Alabama contributions mixed in. The purely Alabama history subjects that were about areas other than the one in which I live were read from the book and discuss lessons. BO-ring.

One of those BO-ring lessons that stood out in my mind was the lesson about Moundville, a place where early Native Americans buried their dead in huge mounds along with their earthly possessions. After that lesson, I felt that the students just didn't "get" how cool Moundville is. They didn't get how cool it is that the mounds still exist, that artifacts are still being found even though the people lived in an ancient time, and that archaeologists are able to learn what those people were like based on what they found/are finding.

So, two summers ago, I was determined to find and make resources to make my history lessons more meaningful and fun. The first thing I did was look for something like this:
An archaeology kit that allows an entire class of students to experience an archaeological dig. But I didn't find it until today!

I did find other kits that were hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some of those had real artifacts that had to be sent back...completely intact. Yeah right. I teach elementary school...and I am clumsier than my students.

This kit looks great and appropriate for elementary school. The kit includes many artifacts which include beads, arrowheads, pottery shards (that will piece together to make pottery), animal bones (replications), and shells, as well as an archaeology digging screen. The teacher can simulate these into an actual dig site (like in the dirt outside) so that the kids can participate in an excavation, and the students can draw conclusions based on the artifacts after they have dug them up.

The kit costs $69.95 and includes enough artifacts for 25 students to make arrowhead necklaces. They also offer refill packs of arrowheads, bones, beads, shells, and necklace cords that can be bought for groups larger than 25. Personally, I would probably save the artifacts and reuse them, but the necklaces look like fun, too! Visit the website to see refill prices.

The teacher will have to supply digging tools for the class. I am going to look for some, and I will let you know as soon as I find some!

I found the following tools (4 out of 5 came from that may work well for this archaeology dig activity:

This set includes 12 wax carvers that look a whole lot like some of the archaeologist tools I have seen on the Internet. There are other pictures of these on the website, and they look pretty blunt, but I do not know that for sure. They are not all they same, but they do not all need to be the same. For this activity, I just want the kids to get the idea of what archaeologists do.

Since I live in an area of Alabama clay (yep that famous red dirt that Warner Von Braun thought would be magnificent for NASA), I think these wax carvers would be great for getting that thick stuff off of whatever is buried in it. [I need to find an area that has a good mix of dirt and clay...or the following sieves will have no point.]

These would be great for sifting dirt. I'm not sure how big they are though; they look pretty small.

This set includes 4 buckets - 3 with sieve bottoms and 1 with a solid bottom. The buckets are pretty small, they are 7" high.

Let me pause now and point out that it may be wise to ask any teachers in the younger grades if they have any of these kinds of play toys that they use in sand and/or water tables that you may borrow. You may even want to e-mail the staff at school to see if anyone with young children have these kinds of toys you can borrow. ...Just a thought...and now to continue:

You probably already have paintbrushes or you know where you can borrow some. If not, these are pretty cool. This set includes a 24 pack of assorted paintbrushes. You can actually get them cheaper on the same site ($7.33 on Amazon), but you would have to pay shipping.

If you would like to go the extra mile...
This kit comes with 4 brushes, 4 sieves, and 24 plastic dinosaur skeletons. The brushes and sieves would be useful for this archaeology excavation, and this kit is actually pretty cheap.
If the dinosaur skeletons do not break easily, it may be fun to bake the little plastic dinosaur skeletons into big sheet cakes or individual cupcakes for a paleontology excavation activity. A variety of sweets could even be used to make strata - pudding, packed crushed oreos, cake, frosting, etc. I'm not sure how easily the dinosaurs break, so use caution when deciding whether or not to use that idea.

Let me know if you and/or your class use these activities! I would love to hear about it. I would love to see photos, too!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mission: Green Santa

I found an amazing website today called Mission Green Santa. I wish that I had found it in time for you to use it for Christmas! If you have not taught your unit on "Going Green" and on being "Eco-Friendly" quite yet, though, this website will still be useful to you this school year.

The website combines an interactive cartoon world with clips from "real" people who narrate the situation at the North Pole. These people include scientists, reporters, and Mrs. Claus!

Mission Green Santa all starts with a report from a climatologist who reports that global warming is causing the runway for Santa's sleigh to melt!

The report even shows Santa's runway at the North Pole...


...and the cartoon map of the North Pole also features that very runway. Without that runway, Santa's sleigh cannot fly on Christmas Eve!  

SO...the climatologist calls the students (or whoever is playing) to action! The students need to help the elves make the North Pole more energy efficient so that the runway can be saved!

The students explore the North Pole to help the elves be more "green." Anytime the student finds an elf that needs help, he/she may click on the "Help and Elf!" bubble to begin helping out.

And anytime a student successfully helps an elf or makes a pledge to be more "green" in his/her own life, he/she earns "greenies", or elf money.

The student can use those greenies to buy items at the elf store that will help the elves even more!

There is so much more to explore at the North Pole at Mission Green Santa. There is a cinema, or theater, that features episodes that explain the Santa runway situation and clips of actual students being more "green" in their own lives. There is also a post office that allows students to write letters to family and friends...and to Santa! Mrs. Claus even promises to make sure that he reads every one. There is even a playground with extra games.

1. The website does ask the student to register with an e-mail address if they would like to continue playing where they leave off before exiting the website.

2. The website is not American-based, so American students may not be familiar with all of the terms... like "cinema" instead of "theater." 

I am so excited about this website, and I cannot wait to use it. Let me know how you use this website in your own classroom.