Our program is based on our belief and practice that our social studies teaching should include strong content, while it develops informational text reading skills.
We believe that students are not successful readers unless they can read informational text. We also believe that their reading skills must include comprehension of a wide range of texts, including informational text (aka content area reading). Students must develop a vocabulary specific to social studies that will help them become successful independent readers.
Not only do we talk about it and write about it – we actually practice this theory in the classroom! So-o-o, with that underlying theory in mind, our classroom time thus far has focused on guided reading exercises that modeled for students how they should (1) anticipate what they are about to read, (2) stop to review, and (3) then form questions in anticipation of what they will read next. Their reading has been reinforced by skill activities.
As we’re moving toward end-of-year testing, we are shifting our instructional strategies to prepare our students to read independently. A few days ago, the ELP team, along with the Student Intern who is working in Jessica’s class, began to map out a plan for moving students to becoming the independent readers they need to be for end-of-year testing, as well as their move to middle school next year.
At our first meeting we outlined the need for:
Call us crazy, but we believed that a valuable learning experience could be provided by having students make their own salt dough maps of the physiographic regions of the state after having discussed them in class. So what did the students say?
“This was a 10 out of 10 day!”
“ I wish we could do this every day!”
“I want to do this at home!”
When students are making comments such as those, the teacher has to wonder if they’re having too much fun and if actual learning is taking place! And – oh my goodness! – what if the principal hears all the excitement coming from the room!!??
Those were some of the comments and considerations surrounding our salt map activity. We had other considerations as well since neither of us had done the activity in this particular format – back-to-back classes in rapid-fire order so that all of the fourth grade classes would do the activity on the same day. That’s a lot of dough!!
So – here’s what WE learned!
It does take a lot of dough. That’s why we dedicated the evening before to making enough dough to ensure that we had enough for at least 90 maps. From that, we learned:
For the big question – did the students learn anything? We have heard “hands-on” learning for decades, but I’ve always advocated that unless we have “hands-on / minds-on” learning, we are wasting our time and resources. To ensure that students kept their minds engaged while their hands were having a delightfully good time with the colorful dough, we asked these kinds of questions:
Student questions dictated other discussions and kept the conversation lively and informative. They were looking forward to their maps drying overnight, so that they could take them home the next day and share information with families.
As teachers, we always have to make good choices about how to allocate our limited classroom time. When we debriefed and reflected on the activity, we concluded, “yes, it was valuable learning time.” We based that on
For the curious – the principal did come in unannounced and spend most of one class period with us. She had a great time, too, and loved what was going on!
And here’s Team H&H at the end of the day. Did we forget to mention that it was “Team Jersey” day at the school?
1918. A century ago. One hundred years ago. What can we learn from so long ago and that simpler time? That was one of the questions for my fourth grade class at F.E. Burleson as we traveled to the Rosenwald School experience at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville.
Our time travel began as soon as we exited the bus at Burritt. Our school teacher/tour guide, Ms. Little, led us to a home that predated the Civil War and gave us a brief history of the time period and Rosenwald schools.
Students learned that Rosenwald schools developed as a partnership between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald to provide better educational opportunities for black students. Hartselle, our hometown, once was home to a Rosenwald school!
Students were further transformed to the time period by dressing gentlemen with suspenders and the ladies with pinafore dresses. Lunches were repacked from paper bags to metal lunch pails or baskets with cloth napkins.
Students lined the walk to enter school, and one had the honor of ringing the bell to usher in our classroom time. Once inside the classroom, students began the day by reciting the pledge as it was in 1918. We learned that the pledge has been revised over time. The pledge from 1918 is, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Students then sang “My Country ‘tis of Thee.”
Once routine school day lessons were complete, students began a reading lesson by reciting a poem and picking out metaphors, synonyms and antonyms. We learned that math lessons consisted of many word problems of real life situations, such as selling land and cattle since many students would be working in agriculture after their education.
Penmanship was a favorite among students as they wrote with a dip pen. They practiced simple strokes and then were able to sign their name. Many wanted to replace their school pencils when they returned for the nib pens and ink!
“Drop the handkerchief” was the game for after lunch. In this game all students stand in a circle. One player has the handkerchief and drops it behind one of the students in the circle. That student must grab the handkerchief and run after the player and try to tag them before they get back to their original space. If they aren’t successful they must wait in the middle.
Vocational training ended our 1918 classroom experience. Vocational training in 1918 might have been home economics for girls and agriculture lessons for boys lessons. Today we learned to weave a small basket.
What can we learn from life in 1918? Here is what the students had to say…
I learned that first through eighth grade could all be taught in the same room! - Libby
I learned that students had to write on a slate with chalk. - Alex
I learned that the girls could not wear pants. - Brooklyn
I learned that making a basket can be very hard. - Sydney
I learned that first grade did cursive. - Tucker
A fun day was had by all with a lot of learning mixed in. Who said history was boring?
“Fall Break.” Ahhhh. Just saying those words to a teacher brings relief. A few sacred days of time off to reflect and refresh. Relaxation and “a happy place” are different for everyone. My version is a few days away anywhere exploring with an old ‘82 Airstream Sovereign behind my husband’s red Ford truck.
We typically aren’t what you’d refer to as beach people, but we love the food. So we set out for a campground at Gulf Shores. I-- being the perpetual explorer and learner -- had to persuade my family to add a little education to the trip by making a stop at Fort Morgan.
We met Fort Morgan on Columbus Day, Monday, October 8 just a few steps ahead of Hurricane Michael. Flags waved sharply in the wind to greet us as if to say, “we’ve seen bigger winds than this before.” Five flags have waved over Fort Morgan in its 199-year history: Spanish, French, British, American, the Republic of Alabama, the Confederate States, and the State of Alabama.
With our self-guided tour booklet in hand, we set about exploring the pentagonal-shaped fort built mostly by slave labor. As I wandered through, the science teacher in me couldn’t help but be amused by the stalactites being formed from chemical reactions with mortar used all those years ago. This fort has withstood, though weathered by time and several wars; as the fort was used during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, and WWII.
When moving throughout the structures on the ground, you can feel an eerie feeling and can’t help but think of the many lives changed and lost within these walls. Being a teacher of Alabama history, I was aware of the hopes that many people of Mobile placed on the fort as the first line of protection from an approaching Union naval forces. As I sat and soaked in the view of the choppy waters below. I imagined what those waters looked like on August 5, 1864 at the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Fort Morgan remains a place keeping history alive to those brave enough to walk the dark tunnels and scale the steep steps. An on-site museum holds many relics of the history of those men and women who called the fort home. Mark this on your itinerary the next time you are at the Gulf. You won’t be disappointed!
** On a side note when we left the Gulf State Campgrounds, two red flags waved us goodbye. Hurricane Michael was expected to touch the shores of the Gulf on Wednesday. We met many on our trip home evacuating from the forecasted category 3 storm. Our thoughts and prayers remained with our friends on the Gulf.
A recent event in our school prompted the idea for our students to have the experience of writing with quills. The first impulse was to run to craft sites and purchase quills or feathers designed to be used as quills. After reading user-reviews, we were not willing to trust our important learning event to these sources!
With further reading and probing, we found that original quills usually had been made from turkey, eagle, owl, goose, or pheasant feathers. Good fortune was smiling on us to have outdoorsmen in the family who had brought back pheasant feathers some years past from their outings. With their blessing – and help – the pheasant feathers became quills!
We should confess that none of us had any idea or prior experience in making a quill. We had read the review of what didn’t work with the commercial ones, so we were armed with that information. With one of our helpful family members equipped with a very sharp knife and a skillful carving hand, we set about turning feather points into “nibs.”
Here’s what is important:
For the ink
The students (kindergarten through fourth grade) LOVED the experience of writing with the quills. Doors were opened for many other learning opportunities in science and social studies as they asked questions about the use of quills and the ink that people in the early 1800s might have used.
Hope you’ll find an opportunity to try out this fun learning experience!
The observance of our National Constitution Day was very close to an event in our school where we were celebrating our state’s Bicentennial – specifically the signing of our state’s first constitution. We wanted to have an activity that would be memorable and meaningful for our kindergarten through fourth-grade students.
Naturally, we wanted to discuss with them the importance of the document – the first state constitution. We had secured a facsimile of the first constitution through a traveling backpack from the State Archives. From other sources, we had replicas of the signatures of the original signers of the documents.
We presented “the talk” about the Constitution at a grade-appropriate level making the analogy of its being like our classroom rules or the student or teacher handbook. We went on to explain that it gave all the information for the jobs that our state leaders had to carry out. We digressed then by personalizing our constitution to include the citizen aspect of the constitution. We asked questions of our students such as “who is a citizen?” “What does a good citizen do?” “Why are citizens important to carrying out the constitution?” Students begin to see that they were a very important part of the government process. They were excited and encouraged to be affirmed in knowing that some of their everyday good deeds were all part of being a good citizen.
The final part of this mini-learning session was letting students become a signer of the constitution by adding their name below the original signatures. Their signature indicated “my promise to be a good citizen of my state.” They signed with a quill (described in another blog), and then took their signed “constitutions” with them.
A copy of the student “constitution” follows in case you want to implement this activity in your classroom. Happy signing!